30 May 2010

No 37 – Across the USA, Seattle to Philadelphia, and a 14 hour Stopover – 26th March 2010

Isn't it nice when a plan works to perfection! 
I was on my way from Seattle to the Caribbean island of St Maarten and had 2 flight options to get there either take an overnight red eye to Philly and rush to connect in just 90mins to the St Maarten flight or take the daytime flight and have a 14 hour overnight stopover in Philly.

I took the 2nd option, I’m sure many people would see a 1 night stop as an inconvenience, but for me it was the chance to see another new American city, have a daylight flight over the whole continent and to be able get a few hours sleep at a hotel rather than try to any in a cramped airline seat, so it was the only option I considered.

It also had the bonus of being on a US Airways Airbus A320, which in case the need arose, was perfectly capable of landing on water! (Was the same airline and aircraft type as the New York Hudson River landing)

My flight left Seattle at 8:30am but wouldn’t reach Philadelphia to 4:30pm  due to it being a 5 hour flight and a 3 hour time difference! I was surprised it was 5 hours with tailwinds, it made me realise how big the USA is.

We flown over many states much of it was cloudy until we were flying over the lakes of Minnesota, my favourite US state! I had recently extended my trip to go back to Minnesota for 3 days in 10 days time, without that extension I would have found flying over and seeing Minnesota without actually going there hard to take and may have even thought about the possibility of demanding a parachute and opening an exit :) thankfully though due to the extension that thought didn’t have to cross my mind!
It was great visibility from this point as we flew over Milwaukee, over Lake Michigan, then over Detroit and Lake Erie before we stated our descent into Philadelphia where the sun was also shining, and had some great city views upon landing.

So here was another new American city for me to visit even though it would only be for a few hours.

I had planned it out really well to stay at an airport hotel just 2 miles from the terminal with free pick up and drop off and just a 5 minutes walk to a train station from where it was only a 20 minute train journey to get into the heart of downtown Philly. 

Got on the train, it was a very traditional
old fashioned system where the conductor would come round and issue huge old fashion paper tickets where the date, ticket type and price paid was punched out, arrived downtown and headed straight for
independence park one of the most historic sites in the USA. I had a good walk around the park and around Independence Hall the building in which the Liberty bell is housed, unfortunately it was all closed up, you could only go in between 10am and 5pm.

I then just wondered around for a while checking out some of the cities architecture before ending up at the impressive City Hall which was the world's tallest building from 1901 to 1908

It is a fantastic bit of architecture and I  walked around it for quite some time viewing it from every angle, 
it remained Philadelphia's tallest building until as recently as 1987 when One Liberty Place was completed since then several more skysrapers had been added to the skyline which having just lit up for the night was a pretty impressive sight too!

After all my walking around it was time to find somewhere to retire for a few pints and a meal, ended up at McGillan's Olde Ale House, which was a fantastic pub that happened to be Philadelphia’s oldest bar it had a brilliant selection of tap beers complete with some free samples to decide on my selection! Now I wouldn’t activity go seeking out a pubs like this… Honestly it just happened to be on my print out from Goggle maps and was near City Hall.

I had a fantastic Philly cheese steak sandwich and chips which went down very well with an McGillin's 1860 IPA. I got chatting to the bartender about my travels and how I was just making a very brief stopover in Philly, but had to get on as have an early flight to St Maarten the next morning, he was impressed that I’d chosen to make a stopover in Philly and come into the city for a look around and he insisted that he bought me a Pint. How could I refuse? another great example of friendliness and generosity that I experienced from people all over the States!

Went to the nearby 8th St Station for my train back to the hotel an impressively spotless Station that is partly above ground and partly under, once on the train the conductor was the same one as on my outward journey earlier he reconised me and guessed I was British and stopped to chat to me for a minute, the friendliness of Philidelpians was really fantastic!
Got back to my hotel by 11pm which really was only 8pm for me due the time difference but had to be up in 5 and a half hours so went to bed feeling like a kid on Christmas eve as I was very excited about the going to St Marteen the next day, somewhere that's had always been at the top on my togo list for many years but had always seemed off-limits until now!

I finally got about 3 hours sleep in what was the middle of what will have to go down as a golden week of my trip, several more Top 40 days from this week to come later!

22 May 2010

No 38 - Australia Day, my final full day in Oz –Brisbane - 26th January 2010

Out of my whole trip, Brisbane was the place where I had more bad luck then the rest of the trip put together! The chain of misfortune started with my Spider bite getting infected then I broke my compact camera due to if falling off the back of my bike on the way to Brisbane's main station, once at the station I got stuck in a lift only briefly but enough to miss a Train, and by the time the next train was due, bikes weren’t allowed on them due to it being rush hour so I abandoned my plans for that day. The following day when I did get a train, due to the confusing 15 zone Brisbane train system didn’t have the correct ticket and just avoided a $200 fine.

Then my luggage which I’d sent to Brisbane from Perth had gone missing, I got messed around trying to sell my bike, the final insult being Cash converters offering me $100 to which I replied I would rather chuck it in the Brisbane river than accept that for it!

And to top it all my rooms air conditional started playing up when it was 34 degrees and high humidity, So as you may imagine after that chain of luck I was pretty keen to get out of Brisbane and move onto New Zealand, however my last full day there and indeed last in Australia was a special one, and just makes it into my top 40.

It was the national day of Australia, Australia Day!

The day started with a Royal Australian Air Force Jet making a low flypast and from my hostels fantastic rooftop deck I had a prime view!

Then I went down to the riverfront and City beach where most of the celebrations would take place, they had entertainment including some prety bad live music, but the headliner of the day was the fireworks which diden't disapoint, the Aussies certainly know how to put on a fireworks display, enjoy these pics of it!

Headed back to the hostel and the rooftop terrace for a while taking in the Stunning views of Brisbane by night Before going out for a final few pints in oz! Finishing my last ozzy pint it was almost a relief as I wouldn’t have to pay as much as £5 a pint again for a while! I could certainly feel my wallet jumping up and down in my pocket in celebration!

19 May 2010

No 39 - Take the train directly to Jail!! Do no pass Go!! – Do not collect $200 - Kaikoura – Christchurch New Zealand, 5th February 2010

Chilled out all morning in the garden of my hilltop hostel, with it’s stunning Mountain and coastal views.

After lunch I walked, or rather stumbled along, dragging my luggage with everything including the kitchen sink, to Kaikoura station, where I was to board a train to Jail!

Well almost! It was actually called Jailhouse accommodation, a former jail converted to backpackers hostel it was located conveniently just down the road from Christchurch station making it perfect for a 1 nights stopover on my way down to the South of New Zealand.

While waiting for my train spotted a massive pod of dolphins, which Kaikoura is famous for, just off the coast there must have been over 100 of them!

Then the train, the Tranzcoastal express turned up.

It has an Outdoor viewing carriage which was a fantastic way to take in the scenery and to take photos without the problem of having glass in the way!

For quite a while we followed coastline on one side and mountains on the other, and went through several tunnels taking us under and through some mountains, the journey then continued to Christchurch with some stunning mountain Scenery.

Got chatting to a couple sitting opposite about my travels towards the end of the journey, turned out they had a car in the car park and insisted on giving me a lift straight to Jail which was great as it saved me having to drag the kitchen sink there!

Arriving there, it still looked very realistic.

While most of the jail has been totally refurbished for backpacker accommodation, there are still samples of the original cells and the isolation chamber. So don't misbehave in your Dorm room else you could be chucked in here!
Who would have thought that Jail food would be as good as this! - Possibly the biggest piece of fish I’ve ever eaten, and there was a massive portion of chips wrapped separately as well!

Early the next morning, I made my getaway fast, so fast that I left behind in the kitchen my antibiotics that I was still taking for my Spider bite, an expensive mistake as I had to get a new prescription.  

I opted against these getaway bikes and jumped on a coach and travellled 250km South to Oamaru

If you realy enjoyed jail you could buy T-shirts or hoodies to let the world know that you love Jail!

That evening in Oamaru for one moment I though I was going to get sent back to jail when I got told off by a security officer for using my flash in taking photos of penguins, I had apparently disobeyed the rules of no flash photography when penquins are crossing!

15 May 2010

40. Surfers Paradise – Dreamworld - 20th Jan 2010

Starting off my top 40 days and experiences of my trip is a day out at one of Surfers Paradises top theme Parks, Dreamworld. It’s always good fun to have a good day out at a theme park especially as the queues were minimal and Dreamworld has a good combination of rides, shows and wildlife.

They even do weddings and take your wedding photos with the natives.

But weddings all get a bit too much for Koalas!

Now for something to wake you up, the Tiger show!
Even big cats can climb trees

And if the tigers didn’t wake you up this will!
The Giant Drop is the worlds tallest tower freefall ride at 390ft tall, you are slowly winched to the top and left to admire the view for almost a whole minute, which when your suspended that high with your legs dangling off the edge feels forever, but what stunning views of the Gold Coasts beaches while you wait to plunge the 390ft to earth in just 7 seconds!

No doubt to me this is as good as it gets for Theme park Freefall ride’s

If the freefall ride isn’t enough on the other side is a Rollercoaster called the Tower of Terror that launches from 0-100mph in 7 seconds and goes up the tower before freefalling backwards!

And if all that’s not scary enough then look at this!

The fact that I was bitten by one the previous week meant the Spider was much scarier than the freefall ride or the Rollercoaster!

Another rollercoaster, Mick Doohan’s Motocoaster was themed around a motorbike race!

After a hectic day out there went back to my apartment hotel to chill out for a while, it was a bargain at just £33 per night, it was so nice to stay here after weeks of staying in hostels with upto 10 people to a room.

The only bad thing about the hotel was on my first night there the fire alarms went off. Twice, once at 10pm and once at 6 in the morning, I was not happy about the 6 in the morning one!

I wonder if the person who set it off made some toast, expensive toast if so!!
So I decided against making toast for dinner and went out and ate at the Hard Rock Café & had a nice evening out to end a good day.

Press Play for a video of the 430ft Giant Drop & the 100mph Tower of Terror rollercoaster!