Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The End (Again) - Encore for Berkeley

Alright, I’m back in Berkeley one last time. Just here to pick up my things and say some goodbyes all over again, then it’ll be some 18 hours of travel time before I get back to Perth, back home. I won’t go through a whole speech again, I already did that about a month ago. Since then though, so much has happened, its felt like I’ve been away on a whole other trip.

As I touched down in San Francisco and took the BART back to Berkeley it actually did feel like going home, this place has really become something significant to me.

But, sitting here now typing this, I can’t wait to fly over the Pacific and go back to my real home. See all the familiar places and familiar faces. It’s really been something, but I’m definitely ready now.

Bring on the heat!

Edit: I typed up the last few blog entries while in on the plane back home or while in Berkeley where I had no internet so I couldn’t post it. Now I just flew back, and I’m in my new house in Rossmoyne. It is bloody hot. Holy shit it is hot. I want to go ice fishing.

Saying my goodbyes.

Last bread & butter meal - for you Sas

The three Aussies from I-house - all on the same flight home from SF.

The End

It's now January 17th.

This is it. Wake up, 5am. Taxi to the airport, then an 8am flight back to Los Angeles from Miami and finally a hug and wave goodbye to Sas and Phil.

Over a month of travelling around the US and getting a taste of Canada and Mexico. This has really been that perfect final touch for my exchange. I hope I managed to capture a little bit of the magic in this blog, but really, words and pictures don’t come close.

Best trip ever. I love you guys!

Miami, Florida Jan 15-16th

Being on the cruise was like being in a bubble of awesomeness that was totally secluded from the outside world. It was a fitting climax for our journey around the continent. But to illustrate how secluded it was, we had no idea about Haiti until we took a taxi to take us to our motel in South Beach, Miami. This was news to us, and it certainly explained a few things, like why Sas’s phone got so many missed call and voicemail messages once it was back on the network. Apparently, her mum had been extremely distressed at the possibility that her adorable daughter might’ve been swallowed up by a giant tsunami caused by the Haiti quake. Awww.

Anyway, by now the three of us are just completely exhausted and Miami was all about just relaxing on the beach. Yeah, the cruise was also a designated chill-out period, but I think we needed a little extra, especially considering the stuff we got up to while on board.

The weather was pretty kind to us. It’s winter here and we still managed to get 20 something degree afternoons to laze about on the beach, admiring the view (check out the picture of ‘cheeks’, P.S. Phil took that picture, not me). The rest of the time we spent browsing the markets set up alongside the main strip by the beach and just trying to soak up a bit more of the Florida atmosphere along with the sun, before we finally head home.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cruisin' Jan 11-15th

Sas, Phil and I have experienced some absolutely amazing stuff on our journey. The intensity of New Years Eve in New York, the stunning snow at Mont Tremblant and all the flashing lights of Las Vegas – they were all incredible. But, the three of us unanimously agreed that our 4 night cruise through the West Caribbean was the best of all.

This was our first cruise, and I can’t be 100% sure but I’m willing to bet that most of you who are reading this haven’t been on a cruise before either, or if you have, you were too young to remember. It doesn’t matter, I can only describe it the way I experienced it.

OK, when I hear the word cruise, I think sundecks, pools and cocktails, but all on a big boat, and not much more besides that. Oh but there is SO much more. The closest I can get to capturing the experience is this: think Titanic – yeah, elegance, class and all that good stuff, then imagine that it all takes place in the high-rolling, outrageous setting of a huge Las Vegas mega-resort with all of its amenities and bits and pieces. Now you have to recall that this huge wonderland is meandering through the Caribbean, stopping at various exotic islands.

Onboard, you’re never short of things to do. In fact I kept a copy of one of the daily programs which gets slid under the door of your cabin every evening, accompanied with pillow chocolates and fresh towels folded into little animals. Our ship, the Imagination (aptly named), had it all. A casino, two theatres, two clubs, multiple lounges and bars, two formal dining rooms, a poolside buffet and grill, a shopping level, gym, spa & sauna, mini-golf, a running track (in case you missed dry land), and of course the outdoor pool and hot tubs. Oh, did I mention the huge water slide on the back? Activities and events included ping-pong tournaments, hairy chest competitions, deck parties, themed clubbing nights, theatre shows, stand-up comedy and of course shore excursions whenever we docked at a port.

Dining was just too good to be true, especially after our steady diet of subway foot-longs during the road trip. Everything is all-you-can-eat, not just the buffet section on the pool deck. So that means the grill, where you choose the ingredients and the chefs wok fry it in front of you is also unlimited. Yes, it also means the sushi-bar, the deli, the pizza bar, and afternoon-tea in the piano bar is also unlimited. Amazingly, the policy extends to the formal dining.

Formal dining was really something. There’s usually a dress code on the ship, and elegant nights are stricter than others. It was nice though, just keeping with that classy feel. Anyway, like I said before, even formal dining is unlimited. So yes, every evening our headwaiter, Sir Edgard (he’s not really a knight but still gallant nonetheless) would present us with the unique menu, and we could pick multiple starters, mains and desserts. You could turn a standard 3 course meal into a 12 course pig-out. Shit, you can order the whole menu – 3 times over if you want! And no, this isn’t standard cafe-bistro food, this is seriously fine dining you’d expect to pay over $100 per head for if it was just 3 courses. Trust me, the pictures don’t lie (neither do the scales – ask Sas).

Soft drinks and booze on the other hand will cost you. The prices were standard, so it was still good, but that is obviously where they make the money (oh and the casino and bingo). However, juices were free, so pre-mixing was definitely the way to go for us. We managed to smuggle on ‘magic water’ (the Bacardi we bought for Sas’s failed Pina Colada mix on New Years) and that served us well.OK so you can see I could probably spend another couple of pages going on about how awesome the cruise was. I can’t even begin to tell you all the shenanigans we got up to. But here are some memorable and interesting bits:
  • The first people Sas made friends with were two huge bootified black chics from New Jersey.
  • My gym clothes and underwear got stolen from the change rooms by one of the janitors. I call him Mr. Pierre the underwear hoarder because when I asked him about whether he had seen my clothes, he immediately went to the dirty towel bin, scrounged around the bottom and pulled out my clothes from his stash.
  • Singing the SNL parody song “I’m on a boat” with all the drunk passengers in the karaoke lounge.
  • We also met Erika, the seemingly innocent girl from the family who were allocated to sit next to us in the dining room. It turns out Erika is a crazy chic who likes to start fights, not least of which with the 30 member black family who sung ‘We are family’ for karaoke.
  • Going deep water fishing in Cozumel, and getting the largest catch out of all the boats that went out today, and then getting to cook up our catch back on shore.
  • Phil and I dominated sports trivia against the yanks, despite the fact that most of the questions were about American sports.
Of course, there was just so much more. The point I’m trying to make is this: go on a cruise. You’ll love it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Final Leg - Georgia to Florida Jan 9-11

We were on the road again and it felt like I was just getting used to the deep fried food, redneck accents, hay sales, hunting shops and strip clubs at trucker stops. This was going to be the longest drive of the trip, so we had it split over two and half days, pit-stopping at Daytona beach and some interstate hotel in South Florida.

Daytona was kind of interesting - lots of hype over their racing heritage. But seriously, what's so amazing about driving around in circles? The two best things that spawned out of Daytona are (1) the video arcade game (of course) and (2) Talladega Nights. Oh but the hooters wasn't bad either, except Phil got dominated by that 27th chicken wing. Unfortunately it was way too cold to swim, but the beaches did look pretty good, although nothing compared to the ones back home.

Yes I know, you're all probably thinking: "Why didn't you stop in Orlando? There are so many awesome theme parks!" Frankly though, we're sick of that after being to LA. Well we did stop in Orlando, for two hours. Obviously we didn't make it to a theme park. What did I do instead? Yeah, you're right, I had to do it again - I went to Orlando Barbell, a chalk dusted warehouse home to Florida's best powerlifters. So now I've been to a couple of hardcore athlete oriented gyms, and now a hardcore powerlifting gym. I guess the last thing I need to knock off the list is a bodybuilding gym (Gold's Gym South Beach Miami here I come!).

After getting my fix we were on the road again driving like hell down the I-95 to get as close to Miami as possible before crashing. Plenty of good fun in the car, observing the wild Sasquatch hibernating and other interesting things.

The next day we pulled into Alamo car rental and dropped off our faithful baby Penelope, the best damn PT cruiser in the world. We'd been through 2300 miles of blacktop, gravel, sand, snow, ice and dirt, probably close to 75 gallons of fuel and multiple I-pod playlists. More importantly, we went through 2 GPS's - Eileen, the sweet talking machine from Insignia who kept restarting and finally choked and died in Atlanta, and Krystal-Nicole (Krystal because she took us to a Krystal fast-food restaurant by mistake, and Nicole because she reminded us of our Hooters waitress, all looks and no brain).

Alright enough of that. What's coming up? 4 nights in a giant 270m, 4000 passenger, 13 deck floating resort.

Ohhhh I love it when we're cruising together.

Atlanta, Georgia Jan 8th

The south. The deep south. Home of all your deep fried favourites. Again, Phil hooked us up and we got to stay with his family friend's - Brian and Mary and their two sons. Great hospitality, great people. But I have to share one thing I found hilarious. The first night the family was just going to quickly order in pizza - OK I'm definitely not going to open my mouth and object as a guest but Phil being the champ he is let them know that I'd prefer to eat 'healthier'.

So Mary, being completely serious and oblivious, offered to make me a grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't sound that bad, but just come over to the States and ask for anything that has cheese in it. Have fun looking for whatever you ordered amongst the melted yellow goo.

Anyway we spent 2 nights in Atlanta, which gave us one full day. What's there to do in Atlanta? Well they have the world's biggest aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola factory and quite a few nice museums and other landmarks.

But no, we didn't do the tourist thing. What did we do? Well, after being disappointed at not being able to properly train at DeFranco's in NJ, I had to hit up CES. Simply put, its another renowned hardcore gym, known for churning out NFL players as well as a whole host of other athletes. I soaked up lots of cool knowledge, finally got to kick a football (the round one) this year and managed to work out with some college and NFL dudes.

Meanwhile, Phil and Sas went outlet shopping on the other side of the interstate.

Oh and Phil and I went to see Avatar at night. Hell good movie! (We were tired, screw the tourist shit).

Sorry most of the pics below are of CES. Actually, I'm not sorry.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On the Road - Maryland to Georgia Jan 6th-7th

Time for the first big leg of our roadtrip - getting from the DC area down to Atlanta. We wanted to take the scenic route through Shanandoah National Park, which has one of the most amazing driving roads through the mountains in the USA. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the snow so we had to take the interstates, nevertheless I-81 is one of the prettiest routes down through the east coast.

Over the two days we went through Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and finally down into Georgia. We made a couple of stops, at Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville, stayed the night in Colonial Heights (some tiny ass town in Tennessee), Asheville, went through Spartanburg, and Greenville.

Interstate billboards are also very interesting - especially the increase in billboards advertising guns, weaponry and $2.95 bales of hay (we will definitely get some of this) as we got further south.

Washington, DC Jan 5th

Sue & Gary took us in while we were in Maryland

The Capital. Obama's House. There are a lot of famous sites and buildings in DC, and we managed to cram most of it into the one day we were there. It was cold as hell, but even as a foreigner, there was something strangely patriotic about standing in front of Lincoln as he presides over the national mall from his huge BOSS chair.

Simply put though, the day was pretty much filled with standard tourist stuff. Oh, and Sas didn't realise that she was being hit on by the black Starbucks dude. She never realises - she's apparently exotic and from South Central.