JOURNAL : Oct 2008
10 - 14 OCTOBER 2008 - CHICAGO
It was a good flight from Boston. The four hours passed quickly, especially as American Airlines must hold the world record for the largest in-flight shopping magazine. More akin to an IKEA catalogue it runs to a staggering 268 pages. However, Im not sure that you can actually get any of the items from the SkyMall brochure on board the flight. Page 126 certainly caught my attention, with the promise of crustacean delight with the Maine Lobster Party available from $149.95 (plus shipping).
Heres the description... This sensational gift includes everything you need to create an unforgettable feast even the Lobster Pot! Our rich, creamy lobster bisque gets the meal off to a mouth-watering start, and our sweet, tender Maine Lobsters are so delicious you can skip the melted butter! Includes live lobsters, 20 oz. Lobster Bisque, 19 qt. lobster pot, shell crackers and picks, cloth napkins, bibs and recipes. Packed fresh and delivered overnight for unbeatable flavor. Perfect for friends or business associates.
For any friends or business associates reading this journal entry, beware... you might just receive some live lobsters in the post for boiling!
Technically, this wasnt my first time in Chicago as I had flown in and out en route to Toronto on my last big trip. Pleased to say that on this occasion I was to see more than just the airport terminal buildings. The transfer to my hotel took longer than I imagined due to a huge amount of traffic congestion as we got closer to the city centre. But once I had arrived, checked-in and offloaded my bags, I was keen to get out and about and find my bearings.
Chicago turned out to be an easy city to explore, even though its the third biggest in the USA. Everything was well signposted, the layout follows the grid system (mostly), and when I wasnt in the mood to walk there were plenty of buses around. With a fairly compact centre, I found it far easier to get around than New York (and its certainly far cleaner). At the weekend, there were even free trolley buses taking you on a number of different routes all aimed at the shoppers, but no rules preventing tourists using them for non-shopping activities.
Chicago is famous for many things, including jazz and blues music. Its also the home of the original Deep Pan Pizza, and 1920s gangsters such as Al Capone. I certainly heard plenty of music, both in bars and from buskers - but I resisted the pizzas (and fortunately avoided any run-ins with gangsters). Chicago is also recognised as a great place for architecture and the arts, and this became evident as I was making my way round the city.
A couple of high points (literally) were the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Tower. These two structures are amongst the worlds tallest buildings (the Sears Tower is the USAs tallest building), and the panoramic views I enjoyed from the respective Sky Deck and John Hancock Observatory were impressive, in spite of me suffering with mild vertigo. Fortunately, I was lucky to have fine weather when I visited the two venues as Im sure both can be shrouded in mist at times. There are displays at both towers giving visitors the background to the design and construction. Most of the information is useful but one bizarre claim made in the commentary during the elevators descent at the John Hancock Tower was that it was the most recognisable building in the world. Really? I can think of many buildings that are definitely more recognisable... the pyramids in Egypt, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Big Ben, and the Empire State Building to name but a few.
I enjoy being on and near water, so a couple of boat trips were on the agenda. Firstly, I went on a harbour cruise at the side of Lake Michigan, one of the 5 great lakes. The lake is so big you cant see land on the horizon, so it definitely felt as though we were on open seas. The boat departed from Navy Pier, now a tourist attraction in itself. Consisting of walkways by the water, and a small park in front, it has loads of shops and restaurants competing for each visitors dollars. The second boat trip I took was a 90-minute architectural cruise up and down the citys river. With a live on-board narration from a rather eccentric-looking lady keen to impart all sorts of facts about architects and designers, I learnt exactly why Chicago is hailed as a great example for people studying buildings, planning and the environment. A foundation course would I think be a good place to begin.
One recent improvement made to Chicagos environment is the open space now called Millennium Park. As with so many similar projects around the world, it wasnt actually ready for the Year 2000, and came in well over budget. Planning officials need to be a bit better at planning, since we all knew for a long time when the new Millennium was arriving! Ideal for relaxing in some welcome Autumn sunshine, the park is home to some amazing structures including the ultra-shiny Cloud Gate, more commonly known as The Bean. As I took a few photos, it was definitely a place for reflection.
My visit coincided with the annual Chicago marathon. Serious and amateur runners were everywhere you looked, even before and after the race. Months of preparation, careful dieting, and generally getting fit etc oh dear, if only I had submitted the application form in time! Oh well, must dash...
03 - 10 OCTOBER 2008 - NEW ENGLAND
Having spent the previous day exploring Boston, it was now time to head further afield. I had set aside a week for my trip around New England. Sad to say, but it was only a few years ago that I actually realised that New England itself wasnt one of Americas 50 states! Instead, its the region on the north-east coast thats made up of 6 states; Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Over the week, I would get to visit all six states, and notch up 1,379 miles in the process.
AVIS had come up trumps with my rental car. I was delighted when they gave me a free upgrade to a Pontiac G6 convertible. Nice. Im used to driving abroad, so was quite at home with the steering wheel, gearstick and pedals being in the wrong place! It was a great car to have, although due to relatively low speed limits throughout the USA, the maximum speed I was ever able to do was 65mph. Honestly.
Throughout the journey, it was interesting to hear the locals views on the current price of gas (petrol), all complaining at the price theyre currently paying an average of $3.45 (works out at roughly £2.00). Its not until you realise that the $3.45 is per gallon that you realise how expensive fuel is back in the UK... £2 for each US gallon translates to just 53p a litre. And the Americans are moaning at the price THEY pay?!
Most of the time, filling the car up with gas was an easy operation. Many stations are now self-service, and come with instructions. Well, I have to conclude that some instructions just arent clear enough! The instruction to lift handle perplexed me at one place I had lifted the handle but no fuel was being dispensed... it turns out that the instruction to lift handle didnt relate to the handle but to a switch on the actual pump. Took me 2 minutes to work that one out! And then there was the pump in Burlington that I stood at for 3 minutes waiting for the gas to start flowing I even tried to solve the problem using the lift handle/switch combo from my earlier mishap - only then to spot the tiniest of signs that told me I needed to pre-pay at the cash desk before filling up. Oops.
New England is a very popular location at this time of year due to one main reason the Autumn foliage. I was officially a leaf-looker. The clear skies (most of the time), the crisp mornings and the ever-changing mixture of farmland, forests, open roads and mountains, created a perfect environment for exploring. The further north I headed, the better the contrast in colours. Billions of leaves had started changing from green into brilliant shades of red, purple, yellow, gold and orange, no doubt inspiring countless poets, painters and photographers. I was certainly inspired to snap a few photos. Whether in the towns or villages, or out in the countryside, the display and range of colours was truly impressive.
Accommodation was surprisingly easy to find. I hadnt pre-booked anything for this stage of my trip, but found plenty of hotels and motels with rooms available. The only bad experience was at Gorham (New Hampshire) when my whole nights sleep was interrupted by the noise of two separate wedding parties. Needless to say, I wished them all well in their future happiness together!
To be fair, I was having trouble sleeping anyway firstly due to the inability of my body to adapt to the time difference (it eventually took me a week to sort that out), and secondly due to my failing health. America is currently gripped with presidential election fever. The only fever I was gripped with was a very bad cold. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing... you get the picture. By the sixth day, my nose had turned lobster red, and I was suffering with post nasal depression! Its a shame that there werent any Rudolph the Reindeer look-alike competitions being staged, as I think I wouldve had a good chance at securing first place.
Theres a distinct style of architecture in New England, with most residential houses having painted weather-board frontages. Most had well-kept gardens. Many houses were displaying support boards for the presidential candidates Obama (Democrat) and McCain (Republican) as well as for the vice-presidential candidates, and for all the other national and local candidates currently standing for election. Many houses had a Stars & Stripes flag fluttering on a pole, and virtually all had displays of pumpkins and ghosts etc in readiness for Halloween at the end of October. Halloween is certainly a bigger event here than in the UK.
The circular route I took was as follows: north from Massachusetts into New Hampshire, and up further into Maine. I then had to cross westwards through New Hampshire before reaching Vermont. Southwards back to Massachusetts, then into Connecticut. Continuing east to Rhode Island (its not an island), finally finishing up back in Massachusetts.
I encountered a wide variety of place names on the way some strange ones, some clearly rooted in their English/British origins, some simply named after counties and countries, and others presumably named by the original Puritan settlers. Examples, in no particular order, included Boston, Portsmouth, Portland, Harmony, Yarmouth, Athens, Mexico, Bethel, Bath, Peru, Dublin, Norwich, Worcester, York, Lebanon, Rutland, Manchester, Bethlehem (it was a little town), Bridport, Windsor, New London, New Bedford, New Canaan, Kent, Bristol, Mystic, Taunton, Essex, Wareham, Rochester, Chatham, Falmouth and Plymouth.
One of my best visits was to Mount Washington, accessible by car via the Mount Washington Auto Road (common sense, really). Although the summit was closed due to a snowfall the previous week, I was able to get nearly 5 miles along the auto road. At the start of the road at Glen House, youre provided with a CD giving useful background to the area and the history of the road itself. The climb was rewarded with spectacular views, although the freezing temperature at the parking stop did nothing to help my cold. The combination of the steep sides and three moose running out in front of me (sadly, too fast to get the camera out) kept me in sharp focus during the ascent and descent.
Other highlights of the tour included my stay in Kennebunkport (lots of lobster available), my 2 days in Burlington (where I took a boat trip out on Lake Champlain, and where I almost got run over by a car that drove through a red light), and my visit to the Cape Cod region, which included the drive out to Provincetown at the very end of Route 6, where I climbed up the inside of the Pilgrim Monument.
People often are surprised by names given to children these days. Well, consider the names of the following individuals who arrived as first settlers aboard the Mayflower in 1620; Degory Priest, Elias Story, Remember Allerton, Love Brewster, Wrestling Brewster, Humility Cooper, Oceanus Hopkins (born during the voyage), Desire Minter and Resolved White.
Oakey dokey. That concludes my write-up of my tour around New England and the visit to see the foliage. Apologies if Ive rambled. I wont add anything else. Youd probably be sycamore.
02 OCTOBER 2008 - BOSTON
A day exploring Boston was in order, so finding the best way into the city was the first thing to sort out. A combination of a Route 86 bus to Harvard Square and a Red Line subway train got me to Park Street and the start of the Freedom Trail. The trail is very simple to follow, and was created so that visitors can see the main historic sites without getting lost. A continuous line of red bricks in the sidewalk, and red paint where bricks arent possible, gives everyone a very straightforward route.
The area was first settled in the early 1600s by about 1,000 Puritans many who had originally come from Boston in Lincolnshire, hence the name given to the place. Makes perfect sense to me. I wont bombard any visitor to this web-page with any more historical facts. But needless to say, as I went round the route, I found out all about the impact of the British parliament deciding to impose high taxes on its American colonies in 1765, the demonstrations that followed, the so-called Boston Massacre, the sparking of the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party, the Ride of Paul Revere, the Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Phew. A lot to take in during a city walk.
One of the most interesting buildings on the trail is the Old State House. Inside is a museum (cleverly called The Old State House Museum) that explains how the building is one of the most historically significant sites in the nation. Makes you wonder then why they built a subway station directly underneath, with access to the station through the corner of the building. Bizarre! Imagine if London mayor Boris Johnson decided to do that with the Tower of London? Better not. Reassuringly, as youre standing inside the building and it starts to shake with the vibrations from passing trains, a display confirms that its having no detrimental impact on the building whatsoever. Hmm.
A good way to get a different perspective on the city is to take a harbour (harbor, if youre American) cruise. So thats exactly what I did, once Id walked past the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Although most of the boat trips are geared towards the summer months (including the Codzilla high-speed option), its still possible in October to have 90 minutes out on the water, breaking halfway through for a visit to the USS Constitution (more about that in a minute) and the WWII destroyer USS Cassin Young. In the distance, Cunards Queen Mary 2 was in dock the boat I was on wasnt as big or glamorous, but it served the purpose.
Nicknamed Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution is apparently (according to the publicity blurb) the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Its sailed out into the harbour each Independence Day, but still undergoes ongoing restoration. I was informed that the Navys pride and joy has been fully restored on many occasions, and only 10% of the wood is now original. I suddenly had a Trigger (Only Fools and Horses, 1996 Heroes and Villains) flashback... his pride and joy was his street-sweeping broom. It was still the original one he was given when he started work 20 years previously it had only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles!
Proof that its a small world became evident when I bumped into friends Charles, Prue, Wilma and Jimmy shortly before I was to get back on the boat for the return leg of the harbour cruise. A perfect opportunity to make arrangements for our meal together at the end of the day, once wed all completed our own various sightseeing activities.
Our Boston Dinner Party may not go into the history books in the same way that the Tea Party did, but it was a brilliant meal. We opted for McCormick & Schmicks seafood restaurant down at Quincy Market. Its a restaurant that prints its menus on a daily basis, due to the ever-changing supply of seafood thats available. You just knew the fish would be very fresh. Amongst todays offerings were Maine Black Mussels, Marshall Islands Yellowfin Tuna, Nova Scotia Atlantic Salmon and Alaskan Arctic Char (yep, not sure what that was either). I had the traditional clam chowder to start, followed by the (no surprise here) Maine Lobster salad.
And a great way to end the day was to receive a text message to confirm that Zoe Scuse had been welcomed into the world a second child for friends Neil and Kim, and a sister for Jake.
01 OCTOBER 2008 - ACROSS THE POND
It's exactly 20 years and 5 days since Michael Palin set out on his own 'Around the world in 80 days' trip - and 135 years 361 days since Phileas Fogg did the original. However, unlike Palin, I'm not restricting myself to just using methods of transportation available to Fogg. Carbon footprint aside (sorry!), I'm using air travel wherever possible so that I can have reasonable stops in a number of key places - either because I want to spend time combining visits and relaxation, or because I have certain friends/relatives lined-up ready to meet on specific dates. It's said that 'preparation is everything'... I just hope that none of the airlines I'm due to go on go bust, as all the flights have been pre-booked and pre-paid! Although I didn't emulate Fogg and Palin by setting off from the Reform Club in Pall Mall, I did at least start my trip from London.
My British Airways flight from Heathrow to Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire) went well, albeit there was a one-hour delay taking off due to air traffic control issues - as well a delay arriving, due to all landings at Boston 'Logan International' airport being suspended for 15 minutes while a big storm blew over. It was very odd to look at the video screen at the flight data and graphics, which showed us heading away from Boston and gaining altitude. We looped round three times before re-commencing our descent. There was one minor fracas a few rows behind when someone tilted their chair back, causing the passenger behind to be soaked with the drink that had previously been sitting unmoved on her tray table - but no major 'air rage' to report.
Although checked-in at different times, I ended up being sat one row behind friends Charles & Prue (and Wilma & Jimmy), who were also heading for New England for a holiday. Just goes to show that it's a small world... Trailfinders were unaware of my friends' travel plans when they booked up my round-the-world ticket. Wilma and Jimmy didn't know I was going to be on the same flight, so it was funny to see the look on their faces when they realised I was on board. The flight took over seven hours, but with the time difference of five hours, it really only took just over two. It still felt like (and was) a very long day.
Immigration fortunately didn't take too long. After being photographed and having my fingerprints electronically scanned, the 'homeland security' official did ask me a lot of questions about my travel plans, and whether I was intending to conduct any business or do any work while I was in the USA. Delighted to confirm to him that work was most definitely the last thing on my mind!
After collecting the bag from the carousel, it was a 30-minute transfer by taxi to the hotel - where relaxing after the day's travel was the priority.
01 OCTOBER 2008 - IN THE BEGINNING...
09:35 Hello from Heathrow Terminal 4. Just logged on briefly to send heartfelt thanks to everyone for their good luck messages. I can't believe the trip is starting, having spent the past five months getting everything organised. I'm now relaxing, hoping for a comfortable flight, and hoping for swift processing through US immigration. Fingers crossed!
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014