Travels in America

Sunday, January 02, 2005

And finally...: Just to round things off, there is now a gallery of the better pictures available at http://www.thebatcave.org.uk/gallery/.

posted by Neil Campbell 9:20 AM

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

For your viewing pleasure: It might still be worth noting that the first entries are at the bottom, and the most recently posted updates to the blog are at the top.

posted by paul campbell 2:18 PM

New York, New York, so good we went there twice: Getting in to New York was notable for being our last, and shortest, Greyhound journey of the whole trip. Our main plans for our time here were to relax, do a little gift shopping, see Grand Central Station and eat a genuine New York hot-dog. Sadly, the whole day was raining traditional, British-style, won't-let-up rain, so that was the hot-dog out to start with. Grand Central Station, however, was not a let down. It is more akin to a palace than a railway station, and we spent plenty of time wandering its many halls and corridors. The Americans certainly know how to build a railway station, even if they seem rather less sure about its use. Also, parts of the station are used as a sort of shopping centre, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone.

Our last hurrah for the trip was a visit to Broadway, to see Chicago (though in retrospect, we also should have gone to see New York, New York when we were in Chicago). As this really was the end, we went out for some fancy cocktails, served in the traditional weird-shaped glass before going to the Ambassador theatre. A couple of rather stern-looking matriarchs directed us to our seats, and I was surprised by how small the place was - even with our (relatively) cheap seats, we were very close to the action. As for Chicago itself, it was exactly the sort of all-singing, all-dancing spectacular we'd expected. So we ended our last full day in the only appropriate manner - a visit to a final brewpub.

The last day was spent packing and worrying about all the possible travel problems which might face us. Mark and Chrissie joined us for a lovely Chinese lunch, and then we headed off into the unknown realms of the subway to the airport. Luckily, it was all perfectly straight forward, and from the airport, it was only a few hours until we were being welcomed back to Blighty by Her Majesty's Customs and Immigration officers.

posted by paul campbell 1:12 PM

Philadelphia, PA: Our plans for Philadelphia seemed to be rather ill fated. Our day began with a visit to the historic, imposing Free Library of Philadelphia, a place which our guide book suggested did tours of its rare books section, but we were thwarted because they weren't running on the days we were around. So, we decided to immerse ourselves fully in the tourist cliche. First on this trail was a visit to Reading Terminal Market, famed for its Amish produce stalls, and more importantly for us, famed for its Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. Yum. A few knick-knacks were purchased, before we moved onto the 'most historic square mile in the US', Independence Hall National Park. The Hall itself had run out of tickets for the day, but we were able to submit to yet more unnecessary security procedures in order to see the Liberty Bell. Needless to say, this is a small, cracked old bell, only of cultural significance if you actually are American. Better than the bell, though was the piped music - the Liberty Bell - which has rather different connotations for those from our side of the pond.

The next day, for almost the first time all holiday, we split up for the whole day, only arranging to meet at (yet) another brewpub for tea. Emma and I walked many a mile across Philadelphia to visit the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, only to find that it was in the process of being rebuilt, and was closed. Instead, we spent our day wandering round downtown Philadelphia, and very pleasant it is too. We strolled down Franklin Boulevard, which is apparently known as 'Philadelphia's Champs Elysees', although I rather doubt that the reverse would be true. Continuing the slightly French feel, we passed by Rittenhouse Square, which is a lovely, Parisian-style park, filled up with Philadelphia's trendy poser brigade. When we met up with Neil and Karen in the evening, our intended watering hole turned out to be booked up for a private function, which rather continued the theme that had emerged during our stay here. However, we did find ourselves an earthy pub instead, and discovered that a pub quiz was about to start. How could we leave after that? We finished a fairly creditable 6th, but the most notable event was me betting Neil the entire evening's drinks bill that he had not accurately guessed the answer to a particularly obscure question. Naturally, he was indeed correct.

posted by paul campbell 7:11 AM

The delay: Yes, so we've been back for more than twice as long as we were away. We've all been very busy, but here, finally, is the end of the story, just in case you were wondering if the intrepid travellers made it safely home or not.

posted by paul campbell 7:08 AM

Saturday, June 19, 2004

What a capital idea: We only had a single day in Washington, D.C. in which to cram all the sight-seeing I intended. Luckily, the bus ride into the city had already taken us past The Pentagon (which is dull) and the U.S. Capitol Building (which is pretty, but is currently rather spoiled by a load of cranes around it). It was obvious that we wouldn't be able to see anything like everything, so we just decided on a short course of action, and then periodically reduced the list when we over-ran our time.

We started the day with a visit to the White House, which, of course, we were unable to get remotely near. We contented ourselves with the obligatory photo-through-the-railings, and moved on to the Mall. The Washington Monument was only dignified with a walk-past, because going up it requires queuing, and we certainly didn't have time for that. The main surprising thing about it was how far it is from the Reflecting Pool - in movies, they always seemed to be right next to each other. Instead, they are separated by a large field, a busy road, and the beautiful World War Two Memorial. This mostly consists of fountains and appropriate quotes, but my favourite part is a section of wall, covered in stars and inscribed 'This is the price of freedom.' Next came the Lincoln Memorial, complete with a huge statue of the man himself, and inscriptions of the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. Most inspiring, though, is the view from the top of the steps, which has the Reflecting Pool reflecting the Washington Monument, then the Monument itself, and finally in the background, the Capitol Building. We hurried past the Korean War Veterans Memorial, consisting of ranks of statues of weary soldiers in a triangular garden, and the unsignposted, neglected, and apparently unloved World War One Memorial.

By this time, we were all starting to feel the heat and humidity, so we headed for the Smithsonian Institute. Our first stop was the Natural History Museum, at which I could spend whole weeks if I had the time. We toured our way past stuffed tigers, casts of dinosaur skeletons and a pickled giant squid before meeting back at the entrance hall dominated by a stuffed African Elephant. The elephant says as much about humanity as any other museum we've visited could say. It owes its presence here to a hunter in Angola, who saw its mighty tracks and said 'That's a huge, imposing, king among animals: I think I'll shoot it and have it stuffed.'

Our next stop was the National Air and Space Museum, always a favourite topic of mine. As before, there were such aviational milestones as 'The Spirit of St Louis' to gaze at and learn about. I preferred to wander through the originals, spares and prototypes of various space related things, such as John Glenn's rather claustrophobic-looking Mercury capsule and one quarter of a Saturn V's thrusters (mirrors are used for the other three quarters to save on space). As before, I could spend far longer here than we had time to spend, so we left having literally not even entered most of the exhibition rooms.

As the National Air and Space Museum closed two hours before the Natural History Museum, we returned there for another poke round a selection of odds and ends. The treats available this time included the Hope Diamond (pretty, but somehow not quite as large as I'd expected) and a platypus skeleton. Neil and I then took great pleasure in shepherding the reluctant Emma and Karen round the insect zoo, and forcing them to look at such wonders of nature (my view), or creepy-crawlies (Emma's view) as rhinocerous beetles and bird-eating spiders.

Also, while wandering the city from place to place we came across the FBI building and Ford's Theatre, but didn't have time to investigate further (though apparently the FBI building is closed to visitors until 2006 anyway). I think I'll probably have to come back here someday.

posted by paul campbell 12:05 PM

Elvis has left the building: Arriving in Memphis, Tennessee, we were pleased to find that for a change, we had booked accommodation near to the station, so we had only 150 yards or so to walk with our heavy bags. As it turned out, this Best Western was about as well placed as it could possibly have been, and we spent a good deal of our time within a one block radius of the hotel.

While Karen languished in the room with an upset stomach, the other three of us visited a small diner called Huey's just opposite the hotel. We arrived in time to enjoy some genuine local live music, having failed to do so in all our previous stops. The band was surprisingly talented, although perhaps not quite so much as the crazy, dancing fanatic standing by the bar would have had us believe.

Next door to the hotel was a Denny's, which served our purposes for breakfast, and next door to that was Autozone Park baseball stadium, home to the Memphis Redbirds, so we got some cheap tickets to see them too. On a rare jaunt away from Union Avenue, we took the obligatory tour of Elvis' former home at Graceland, a moderately interesting museum to his life and work. That evening, as the heavens opened and the rain flooded down, we watched an uneventful baseball game won by the home team.

Before we ended our flying visit to Memphis, we just had time to watch the famous duck march at the Peabody Hotel. Several tour buses pulled up outside at 10.55 and hundreds of sight-seers poured in to the Peabody and peered at the tiny fountain and red carpet. A group of terrified brown ducks were chased out of the lift, up the red carpet and into the fountain amid constant flickering from camera flashes. Seconds later the lobby had emptied and the tour buses departed, and we too left the ducks to their own business and prepared for the 23 hour bus journey ahead.

posted by Neil Campbell 11:20 AM

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Alligator hunting: On Friday evening TJ, Liane and the four of us threw our overnight bags into the back of the pick-up, crammed ourselves into the (thankfully extended) cab and drove the 1hr and 20 mins to 'The Camp' as TJ calls it. 'The Camp' consists of a large mobile home on a piece of land belonging to TJ in a small town called Pierre Part. Once we had unloaded the pick-up, we each grabbed a cold beer, large gin and tonic, or glass of wine and settled down on the wharf, listening to the sounds of birds, insects (mostly cicadas this year emerging from their 17 year cycle) and later, frogs, calling to each other. We remained on the wharf until it became too dark and we had to put the lights on which meant the bugs became unbearable so we retreated into the sanctuary of the conservatory (yes, he really does have a conservatory on his mobile home!). Here we continued to sup our beer until dinner was served. At dinner we met Floyd, TJ's older brother who has recently joined the police force even though he is in his seventies! While enjoying a dinner of Crawfish Etouffee and deep-fried Catfish, Floyd told us, in a very broad Cajun accent, how he prepares dinners for as many as 1000+ people at a time and the enormous weights of catfish, batter and onions this requires.

After a good night's sleep we breakfasted on TJ's version of beignets (a sort of doughnut type thing) before preparing to go out on TJ's boat. Once the boat was launched and we all clambered in we set off through the maze of Bayous to do a spot of alligator hunting (without the guns). After a few false starts where some bayous were either too overgrown, or had been blocked off, we were on our way. We found a small cove where TJ knew there would be alligators and slowly made our way in. Before long we had spotted a couple of heads poking out of the water but, unfortunately, they ducked under the water and swam away before we could have a proper look. We hung around for a while and spotted a few more gators before heading back out onto the bayou. Before long we had reached Lake Verret, where we stopped to hand out cans of our desired beverage. We floated along for a while before deciding that we were too hot and needed to get on our way again to provide us with a bit of a breeze. We started on our way back along a different route, avoiding the fish which were leaping out of the water, and before long were back at the camp. We were all hungry by this point so TJ and Liane took us to a local cafe where they knew we could get alligator to eat. Emma and I were the only ones brave enough to order this and found that (as with everything unusual), it tasted like chicken! On our way back to the camp TJ took us on a tour of Pierre Part, and at one point even drove his Chevy to the levee, which allowed us to quote the famous song. Before long it was time to pack up the truck and head back to New Orleans.

posted by Karen Lang 8:00 PM

The Big Easy: Paul and I had spent time in New Orleans on a couple of occasions before, including a brief spell in 2001 when we took our first Greyhound ride - thus laying the foundations for the current trip. In fact, our last visit was so enjoyable that we did more or less exactly the same again this time, for the benefit of Karen and Emma.

So once again, we began at the Audubon Zoo, although this time we were also treated to a brief tour of Metairie and New Orleans by our host, TJ. The Zoo was much as I had remembered it, featuring all the usual fixtures as well as some novelties such as a Louisiana Swamp section, a pair of fairly inanimate komodo dragons, and the incredible giant anteater - one of the most bizarre creatures on earth, made all the more interesting by the fact that it carried a fairly hefty young giant anteater on its back.

The zoo occupied us for most of the day. When it closed, we took the John James Audubon boat along the mighty, muddy Mississippi back toward downtown New Orleans. The day after, we completed the traditional sequence of events by visiting the aquarium and spending an enjoyable few hours wandering around the French Quarter, led by a self-guided walking tour we found on the internet. This took in thirty-eight historical sites around old New Orleans, most of which had been burned down at least twice, bringing to mind the familiar stories of Quebec's buildings - was that even the same holiday as this?

During the evenings at TJ and Liane's house in nearby Metairie, we were treated to several interesting and enjoyable culinary experiences. Huge portions of delicious seafood, Bananas Foster, and frozen daiquiris were brought forth until we could literally eat no more. This was true hospitality, Cajun style, and it comes very highly recommended.

By some way the strangest of our meals was had at a local Asian buffet restaurant. As well as the traditional Chinese fare, we had the opportunity to sample whole crawfish, crabs larger than your hand (complete with shell, legs etc.), a large variety of sushi, and some battered frogs' legs. Crab meat, predictably, tastes like a fishy chicken, but the experience is made all the richer by the struggle required to get any meat out of it. Fortunately, we had not come alone, so TJ and Liane were able to talk us through the complex process of dismembering the creature, and although we had far from mastered the process we were at least able to savour the delicious satisfaction of picking meat out of a crab's claw using the point of its own pincer.

posted by Neil Campbell 7:18 PM

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Chilling out in the heat: After leaving Austin, we went to the equally luxurious abode of Auntie Irene and Uncle Alan, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pausing only to pollute our bodies with some burgers in Houston. In Austin, we had mostly been following the suggestions of our local guides (i.e. Kat and Lan) for things to do, but here in Baton Rouge, we had our own agenda: do nothing.

So, we duly spent a few days regaining our energies for the final tourist push, back to New York. We hung around the pool, Neil whipped me repeatedly at tennis, we even went to the pictures. The movie in question was the recommended (by our hosts) Shrek 2. It's good, but not quite as good as the original.

One evening, we ventured out to a nearby British themed pub in search of happy-hour priced beers. Sadly, there were none (or at least, the happy hour on beer didn't start until later), so we resorted to the happy-hour priced Long Island Iced Teas and frozen margaritas instead. How disappointed Uncle Alan was, when the waitress didn't ask him for ID along with the rest of us.

The only true sightseeing we managed was when Auntie Irene took us to Bluebonnet Swamp, which is rather artificially maintained in the middle of the city. We might have walked along the path for as long as 30 seconds before stopping to cover every inch of exposed flesh with 100% DEET mosquito repellent. Once this necessary task was over, we all wandered happily around a series of pathways and boardwalks, trying (but failing) to spot an alligator. We did manage to see a few other animals, particularly an abundance of dragonflies, and also some brightly coloured male cardinals.

And with that, it was time once more to leave.

posted by paul campbell 7:27 PM

Austin, TX: In Austin, the capital of Texas, we had the luxury of staying with relatives - our cousin Kat and her husband Landry - so we arrived after the gruelling 21 hour bus ride from Colorado Springs looking forward to a week of relative relaxation. Our hosts, however, had different ideas.

We spend a day recuperating, and then headed downtown in blistering heat. We toured around the former stomping ground of George 'Dubya', the Texas Capitol Building - an ornate, domed structure full of grand pillars, chandeliers and marble floors. We also sauntered through the huge University of Texas campus, and got lost while exploring one of Austin's large and attractive city parks. To avoid the worst heat of the day, we ducked into a Texan chili parlour; a slightly foolish move, as I then proceeded to eat the hottest chili I've ever tasted.

The day after, Kat kindly agreed to drive us to the relatively nearby city of San Antonio, where we took in traditional tourist's set-pieces such as the site of the Alamo and the beautiful San Fernando Cathedral - possibly the oldest in the U.S.A., depending on who you believe. Thursday was principally spent pulling our swimming shorts out of our arses after sliding down the flumes at Schlitterbahn water park, an enjoyable if slightly tame collection of rides. On our return home though, we had time to renew our love affair with the American micro-brewery by sampling a range of decent beers at North by Northwest, conveniently located within walking distance of the apartment.

Our final day in Austin was to be the most enjoyable of all. We drove (or were driven) out to a section of the Guadalupe River and went river tubing. Despite the initial chill of the rapidly flowing water, it was all a very serene and relaxing experience until we hit some small sections of rapids.

At the first set we all sailed through comfortably, but I had to pause to rescue a small boy who had been caught in some backwaters and was simply going in circles. My efforts were in vain, though, as once freed from the current he just fell off and swam to shore where he awaited collection by his parents. Oh well.

Further down the river, we hit problems ourselves. As we went over a small natural step in the river bed which caused a miniature waterfall, the tube with the drinks cooler capsized, sending our precious beer floating down the river. Surprisingly, we were reunited with some of it further downstream, as cans started floating gently past, but many cans, and a pair of my shoes, were lost forever to the river.

For our last evening's entertainment we went downtown again, to the famous Sixth Street. We had aimed to see some of the live music for which Austin is renowned, but we reckoned without the biker festival which had taken over almost all of the city. Never before have I seen so many Harley Davidson t-shirts, beer guts and beards in one place. We instead settled down to a quiet pint and a chat in a low key Irish theme pub, before once again bidding farewell to a city and moving ever onwards.

posted by Neil Campbell 6:28 PM

Monday, June 14, 2004

Adventures on Mountains: While the others explored Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, I decided to concentrate my efforts on a single task - reaching the summit of Pike's Peak. Although the mountain isn't the highest even in Colorado, it does rise to 14,110 feet above sea level, and the Barr Trail leading from the Cog Railway to the peak begins at only 6500 feet, so there was a long climb ahead.

I began just before nine o'clock, having agreed to be back by half past six, so it was with some dismay that I read from the trail guide that the walk took sixteen hours in total. Nevertheless, off I set, walking as fast as my legs would take me in the heat and high altitude, pausing only to exchange breathless yet cheerful greetings with those I passed along the way.

According to my map, the 12 mile (each way) trail was in three roughly equal sections: a demanding, relentless uphill walk for 3.5 miles; a gentler 3.5 mile incline leading to Barr Camp at 10,500 feet; and a steep 5 mile ascent to the summit. The first of these took me one hour, and when I stopped to check the map and re-apply the sun cream, I was optimistic about my chances, if I could maintain the pace. Already the views were spectacular, the great flat expanse of Colorado Springs and beyond behind me and towering peaks ahead, with Pike's Peak itself a formidable shadow in the distance.

A further hour on I had reached the camp, after a pleasant, gentle climb through forest, with pine and oak trees interspersed between huge red boulders. With only two hours spent so far and 5 miles remaining, I was sure I could reach the top with sufficient time to get back down again, so after resting for food and donning warmer clothes, I began my assault on the summit itself.

The change in the air was quite startling. As I approached 11,000 feet, the air grew noticeably thinner, and before long I found that I could move no further than a few yards at a time without pausing for breath. Undeterred, I pressed on, and as the oxygen thinned so did the trees, while my progress slowed with each step. The signposts along the route showed that my speed had dropped considerably, and it was not until one o'clock that I reached the 12,000 feet mark, with about 2 miles of walking still to do. I reckoned that I had to turn back by 2.30 however far I had climbed, so there was still enough time left; however shortly after passing the timberline and into the barren, exposed, rocky terrain beyond, the snow started to fall.

The weather quickly got worse, until I could make out none of the surrounding peaks, valleys or lakes through the mist and snow, which was now blowing almost horizontally. Shortly after, my attempt was over, as the trail suddenly disappeared, and I spent some 30 minutes stumbling about over rocks and through deep snow before I was able to find the path again. Once I had, there was no time to reach the top, and with the weather still worsening I started back down.

Getting lost in a blizzard wasn't quite how I'd hoped my climb would end, but it was a worthwhile experience nonetheless. My trip took 8.5 hours, and covered around 20 miles, with nearly a 6000 feet gain in altitude, and I resolved to come back again and complete the climb.

An interesting side note is that a plaque on a rock at 12,000 feet commemorates a woman who had died during the descent after her fifteenth climb to the top; she was, however, 88 years old at the time.

posted by Neil Campbell 7:10 PM

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Morocco, Colorado: "Let's do something different for dinner," we said. "How about Moroccan? That's not too exotic, is it?" How wrong we were.

As soon as we entered the restaurant, it was clear that this meal would be a little out of the ordinary. We had to remove our shoes in the foyer, and we were led to our table, which was around 15" off the ground and surrounded by the cushions on which we were to sit. The only choice on the menu was the main courses, as everything else was set. Our hands were washed ceremonially by a costumed waitress, using a sort of ornate teapot-and-bucket affair, and we were informed that the meal was to be eaten by hand. Fortunately, the napkins turned out to be large towels.

The first couple of courses passed with no particular incident, but our spider-senses tingled when the ambient music was turned up a few notches. This heralded the arrival of a belly dancer, who performed in the centre of the room, accompanying herself with castanets. After the first dance was over, we thought that the performance was finished, but again we were mistaken. She performed various dances for about 20 minutes, before the most dreaded possible moment arrived - all the diners were summoned to join in a folk dance. We tried to resist, but she would brook no refusal. The dancer gave a few quick lessons, which might have been useful to a fellow dancer, but naturally were useless to all of us. She also chivvied a few of the less enthusiastic participants with encouragement and further lessons. Karen, to her total mortification, was among these unfortunate souls. A few of our fellow diners were getting into the mood, but luckily, most of them were about as keen as us. It was not long before Emma and Karen were totally unable to continue, because they were so impressed by my Fred Astaire-esque performance. Or, as they put it, my dancing was so hilariously bad that they were in hysterics.

After the humiliation was over, we were allowed to slink back to our meal, tails between our legs. By this point we had reached the main course, which in my case was a pretty good lamb and cous-cous stew. Mind you, it was tricky to eat it with my fingers and retain what little dignity I had left. Everyone else, however, had selected chicken, and were fairly surprised when they were each presented with a whole (but small) roast chicken. Still, at least they were able to use their fingers to good effect on the bones.

The final course was mint tea, which was served with a bit of a show. After pouring the first two cups normally, the waitress poured the third cup while holding the cup on her foot, and the fourth while balancing it on her elbow. Certainly, it was an impressive flourish to end a most unusual meal.

posted by paul campbell 6:14 PM

On the roof of Colorado (almost): There was only one reason we wanted to come to Colorado Springs, and that was Pike's Peak. Even though there are apparently 30 taller mountains in Colorado alone, there's something about the presence of a railway up to the top which is really appealing. Or at least, it was appealing to Emma, and Karen and me. Neil decided to take the longer route up, on foot.

So, we started our day by dropping off the lone wanderer at the foot of the hill, and then got tickets for the Pike's Peak and Manitou Cog Railway. The hour and a half ride is very relaxing, and affords great views both up to the summit and down to the town. As we reached higher and higher altitudes we were obliged to don jumpers and later jackets to keep out the cold, yet refreshing, mountain air. To our amusement (or perhaps pity), the couple sitting next to us were only wearing t-shirts, so they were either very hard, or very foolish. On reaching the top, they, like almost every other passenger, raced into the heated splendour of the gift shop. Naturally, we were made of sterner stuff, and spent our time strolling around the snow capped peak and gazing over views of mountain ranges, plains and cities. We were just beginning to feel the biting cold and notice that the altitude was making us short of breath when we were obliged to return to the train.

We still had all afternoon to spend before we were scheduled to collect the intrepid mountaineer, so our next stop was the equally tourist-filled Garden of the Gods. This is apparently named because someone thought it would make an excellent beer garden, and his colleague quipped 'a garden for the Gods.' This possibly wouldn't have been my first thought. We took a couple of short walking trails around some of the bigger or more oddly shaped rocks. Not suprisingly the first trail (very near the car park) was crowded with bus-loads of school kids and the like, which I thought rather destroyed the air of calm and dignity which surrounded these huge and incongruously positioned rocks. Our second trail, which was slightly further from the visitor centre was almost totally deserted. This gave a slightly more tranquil atmosphere as we wandered around a bizarrely shaped lump of rock called the Siamese Twins. This tranquility was dispelled when Karen and Emma, still giddy from the euphoric fudge they'd consumed earlier, accused me of calling them 'red-arsed baboons', and then giggled hysterically for most of the afternoon. Once everyone had settled down sufficiently to drive, we collected Neil to learn about his adventures.

posted by paul campbell 11:25 AM

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A funny thing happened on the way to St George: Well, we knew it would be a long drive from Tusayan to St George, but I think we underestimated it by some way. It would only actually be around 100 miles to go directly, but unfortunately there is a great big hole in the ground that we had to drive around.

So, Emma drove and drove and drove through desolate red desert, past many bings from the mining days, and just as many roadside stalls selling 'authentic Navajo gifts' and buffalo jerky. We made our first stop at the Glen Canyon Dam, which is most famous for enraging environmentalists by creating Lake Powell, which in turn is famous for being in Planet of the Apes. After being impressed with the crazy geology of the lake, and by the ludicrous amount of concrete involved in the dam, we tried to get into the visitor centre. This involved a totally unnecessary x-ray and security search, which wouldn't have been so bad, except we only wanted to go in to use the toilets.

We drove again, this time past the weird rock formations of southern Utah. This still wasn't enough to prepare us for the astonishing Zion National Park. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to stop (we were already late for returning our rental car), so we just gazed, open-mouthed, at the incredible scenery and vowed to return when we had the chance.

From Zion, it was only a short drive out to St George, although it was made rather longer by the fact that the airport is totally un-signposted (if that's a word). We occupied the five hours or so we had to spend before our bus came by hanging around the library - always a good place to kill time with no expense. And here, as if by magic, we encountered a couple who were not only from Edinburgh, but who had spent their day traveling from the Grand Canyon to St George, by way of Zion National Park. As with all things: weird.

posted by paul campbell 2:41 PM

Horsing around in the Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon at sunset

After our massive wins in Las Vegas we hired a car to get us to the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. When we reached the Dam we found that to stop in one of the car parks on the front side of the Dam would cost us $5-8 so we carried on, driving over the Dam itself. From here we didn't get much of a view of the Dam which was a little unfortunate, but we caught a glimpse of it, and have all seen pictures of it before. As we were driving away we found some parking places which did not require a payment so stopped briefly. This only allowed us a view of the rear of the Dam which is still pretty impresive.

After driving for a good 6 hours (thank you Emma!), we eventually reached our hotel in Tusayan, around 2 miles south of the south entrance to the park. By this time we were all tired and hungry so decided to go out for some dinner before hitting the sack. We had a look around and decided on a steak house called Yippee-ei-oh. Once inside we discovered that it was designed to be an authentic cowboy hangout adorned with western saddles, pictures of horses and buffalo, wooden panelling, country music and waiters in wrangler jeans, checked shirts and cowboy hats. Once seated we ordered some Rattlesnake beers (alongside which we received some jam jars with handles to drink from!), three Cowboy Steaks and one Cotton-pickin-chicken. In due course these arrived and we all had a delicious meal: aside from the huge slab of meat, it came with baked potatoes (complete with foil), cowboy beans (spicy homemade baked beans), corn on the cob and a biscuit (scone to you and me!). We all made our way through this feast and eventully went back to the hotel pleasantly stuffed. Neil, Paul and I then took advantage of the spa pool before all retiring for the night.

The next morning we all began noticing some discrepancies with time. The clocks on the Hoover Dam had informed us that we were moving from Pacific Time to Mountain Time, however, the clocks around the hotel were all still on Pacific Time! We later discovered through research on the internet that Arizona doesn't use daylight saving hours and therefore was on the same time as Pacific time.

After this small matter had been sorted out we headed out to be real cowboys (and girls) for a couple of hours. On my request we had booked a two hour Trail Ride through the Kaibib forest. In time we were mounted on our steeds, Emma on Sixgun, Neil on Shotgun, Paul on Shooter and myself on Poko. Along with several others we headed out into the forest. The forest was not as we would imagine a forest to be. The trees were not as densly packed nor as large and green as the average British forest. I suppose this was probably because we were in the middle of a desert so it is surprising that trees can even survive! After two hours we headed back to the ranch and saying a fond farewell to our trusty steeds, headed back to the hotel for a dip in the pool.

Almost a full day into our visit here and we still hadn't seen the Canyon itself. We decided that we would head into the park to watch the sunset as this had been highly recommended by the Rough Guide book. We arrived in the park, Emma and I not expecting much as we had heard several times (from Neil and Paul) how the Canyon didn't live up to expectations and was nowhere near as good as it was written up to be. In fact, they would have been perfectly happy with missing this out of our trip had it not been for Emma and I wanting to see it. We parked the car, walked out onto Mather Point and were totally gobsmacked by how nice the place was. In fact it is difficult to put into words how beautiful it actually was. The Canyon itself was beautiful, but at sunset it was even better. The colours of the rock deepened with the changing light, and cast shadows over the rock formations and valleys. It was breathtaking, I think I'll leave it there and let the picture do the talking! I think it was the perfect time to get our first view of the Grand Canyon.

The following day we went further into the park and walked a little way into the canyon. All the information we had been given suggested that for an 8 hour trail, you should take with you 30 pints of water per person! We didn't have enough bottles to take 30 pints between us so decided on a shorter walk. We walked 1 1/2 miles into the canyon down winding paths with a steep drop to one side, passing some mule trains taking some rather weary looking tourists back to the top of the Canyon (we had considered doing this, but thought that 7 hours in the saddle would be too much). By the time we reached the first rest point we were all very hot and tired, so after a brief stop for lunch decided to head back up the trail. Once back at the top we got a huge ice cream each and sat watching three (out of a world population of 200) California Condors sitting on the rocks below and soaring around in the sky. We also observed, once again, the ignorance of some people who were feeding a ground squirrel whilst leaning on a sign which says under no circumstances should you feed the animals! Once again we headed to Yippee-ei-oh for dinner, this time sampling some deep fried rattlesnake as a starter. As with everything unusual, it tasted like a chewy type of chicken, and was not unpleasant. We ate our fill and headed back to the hotel where we packed our bags ready for an early departure the next day.

posted by Karen Lang 11:29 AM

Vegas Baby!: Las Vegas wasn't the worst city we'd visited on the tour. It certainly wasn't the best. It might just have been the strangest. Roadside billboards advertising the casinos begin some 200 miles west of the city, and became gradually more common as we traversed the bleak Californian and Nevadan deserts on our way east.

As soon as we had left Los Angeles, our next stop took on a special significance: L.A. the most distant point on our extensive itinerary, and as such Vegas was in a sense the first stop on the way back home.

Las Vegas is a land of excess the like of which I had never before seen. The Rough Guide USA informed us that the city contains fourteen of the world's fifteen largest hotels, totalling over 100,000 rooms. Each hotel-casino boasts a colossal gambling floor, with more slot machines, card tables and roulette wheels than you can shake a Gamblers Anonymous handbook at, and all are free to enter and open 24 hours.

All the major hotels also feature a buffet restaurant of immense proportions. The one we visited featured a Chinese section, a Mexican section, a large salad and pasta bar, an entire aisle full of drinks fountains, a carvery with freshly roasted beef, turkey and ham, a paddling-pool-sized bowl of cocktail shrimp, a huge dessert section, and finally, on the other side of the room, an identical buffet including all of the above, just in case one wasn't enough.

Stuffed, and not a little disoriented, we made our way out of hotel, Excalibur (which hasn't been the world's largest hotel since 1993), onto The Strip, only to be further dazzled by the bright neon lights of over a dozen other casinos. First stop was New York - New York, quite impressively built to mimic the New York skyline, complete with a replica Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge outside. Inside though, despite a Central Park theme and a bar with four dancers a la Coyote Ugly, it was in almost all respects identical to Excalibur's casino. Equally similar, though differently themed, were Caesar's Palace, Bellagio, Luxor, Mirage and Monte Carlo, so we opted to do most of our gambling in Excalibur itself. Being the big spenders that we are, we primarily restricted ourselves to the 5 cent slots, and once Karen broke the bank and turned our 40 cent deficit into a 70 cent profit, we quit whilst ahead and gave up the gambling.

One footnote on our brief but enjoyable Vegas stay was Bellagio's fountain show. At regular intervals, an array of moving water jets in the hotel's vast artificial lake comes alive and puts on a brilliantly choreographed performance to a piece of classical music. We joined crowds of onlookers to see the fountains rise and fall beautifully and rhythmically to Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli's 'Time to Say Goodbye'. Perhaps there is some romance in Las Vegas after all.

posted by Neil Campbell 12:15 AM

Monday, June 07, 2004

Photo Album: We've added a few of our better photos to an album on Yahoo. There are about 62 pictures at the moment, from all across the trip, and you can view them individually or as a slideshow. Enjoy!

posted by Neil Campbell 10:02 PM

Sunday, June 06, 2004

City of Angels: Our trusty guidebook had warned us that the central Los Angeles Greyhound station was in a seedy area of downtown, but what we weren't prepared for was the extent of the unseemliness. In fact, all of downtown L.A. is rundown, dilapidated and altogether unwholesome. Many of the area's shops and businesses are derelict, and the poor, the hungry and the homeless line almost every street as a constant reminder of this darker side of the city.

Having found the hotel, we left in search of food, but rapidly discovered that of the few eateries in the vicinity, almost all were closed. After a dispiriting and largely unsuccessful hunt, we finally took refuge in an incongruously upmarket Italian restaurant, whereupon we were each given a dirty glare from the waiter and reluctantly shown to a table secreted away at the very back of the room. The food itself, however, was quite excellent, and to delay the trek home we even opted for a martini each - or in Paul's case, a huge glass of straight vodka.

Our second day's first priority was to leave downtown by the most direct possible route. The tube to Hollywood seemed like the appropriate thing to do, so we made our way to Union Station, taking time to stop outside the Million Dollar Theatre and the Bradbury building, both of which were used in the classic film Blade Runner. The outside of the Bradbury looked as mundane as any other, but inside the intricacy of the cast iron railings was really something to behold.

From Union Station (also used in Blade Runner), we fought long and hard with the ticket machines before eventually being allowed to travel, and once in Hollywood proper, surrounded by swarms of fellow tourists and with downtown far behind, things started to improve. Hollywood Boulevard is exactly as I had expected; various gimicky museums, tour operators offering guided trips past movie stars' driveways, and visitors taking their pictures next to the stars embedded in the pavement (I declined, having done the same with Isabelle Huppert's hand prints in Cannes). Somehow though, it was all quite nice; it all just worked, as if hung together by a sort of magic.

We paused in the CyberJava coffee house and net cafe for a fine fruit smoothie and a coffee, and then proceeded on two personal pilgrimages. A few miles up Sunset Boulevard, which runs parallel to Hollywood Boulevard, lies the Viper Room, a celebrity hangout outside which River Phoenix famously collapsed and died. Of more interest to me, though, was Book Soup, an independent book shop a couple of doors down at which obscure songstress Lisa Germano once worked. That was about as close to a celebrity encounter as we could handle, so we left stardom to the other wannabes and caught the next bus to Las Vegas.

posted by Neil Campbell 10:37 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Big Trees: En route from Yosemite to rejoining the Greyhounds at Bakersfield in Southern California, it seemed rude not to drop into two more parks: King's Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park. I had heard of neither of these before the trip, but so impressed were we with the preceding three national Parks that we couldn't resist seeing what they had to offer.

The principal attraction of King's Canyon is, of course, the Canyon itself; but before reaching that the Park had some other treasures to share. Located as it is on the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains, several viewpoints offer spectacular panoramas of the snowy peaks, glacial valleys and icy lakes that make up the range; even Mount Whitney, the highest in the 'Lower 48' states of US, was supposedly visible, though we found it to be obscured by distant mist.

Moving back into the dense forests that cover most of the King's Canyon and Sequoia parks (the two are actually more or less the same park), we followed a short trail to the General Grant tree, hailed as the third largest living organism on the planet. It soon became apparent that in California there are trees, and then there are Trees. General Grant, one of the Giant Sequoias, is absolutely colossal. The circumference of the base of its trunk is over 100 feet, although two factors make it difficult to appreciate the scale. Firstly, it's in a forest of several other utterly huge trees, and secondly, you need a very wide angle lens to photograph it from any closer than about 300m. Still, we were suitably impressed, and decided to head on to the centrepiece of the park.

The real advantage of King's Canyon is that we had no idea what to expect. We had read little about the park before arriving, and seen no photographs, so when we reached the brink of the canyon after a steady upward drive of twenty miles or so, we were all awestruck. Supposedly North America's deepest canyon, it descends thousands of feet to the rushing rapids of the King's River - breathtaking doesn't begin to describe the view; this is perhaps the most incredible landscape I had ever laid eyes on. King's Canyon has to be seen to be truly appreciated - certainly no photograph I'm capable of taking could ever do justice to the place.

A slow, winding drive to the canyon floor (which extends through only part of the valley; the river alone carved the remainder that the glacier didn't reach) allowed us to cruise alongside the gushing white water, which is reportedly powerful enough to claim several lives each year. The basin left by the glacier is like another world again to that seen from above. Peaceful, lush green forests hide much of the sheer canyon walls at either side, and protected from the strong gusts of wind the hot summer sun can be felt much more strongly. However, our time was running out, with a long distance still to travel that day, and it was with heavy hearts that we left this majestic place behind.

After bedding down for the night in Three Rivers, south of both parks, we headed back north into Sequoia Park, home of the only two living things even bigger than the General Grant tree, and a great many other pretty darn large ones beside. At the heart of the park is Giant Forest, and at the heart of the forest is the General Sherman tree, another monstrous trunk climbing more than 270 feet into the sky at an age of around 2700 years. The Sequoias in Giant Forest are much more numerous than those of King's Canyon, and walking amongst them makes you feel very small indeed. However, the cynic in me decided that once you've seen the biggest tree in the world, you've seen 'em all, and the park had little else to offer besides the novelties of driving under Tunnel Log (a Sequoia fallen over the road which has been drilled through rather than removed), and Moro Rock, a precariously balanced precipice leaning out over the valley 4000 feet below - again though, the conditions restricted our view considerably.

posted by Neil Campbell 7:15 PM

Yosemite, Sam: Black bear at the roadside in Yosemite Park

After a short bus ride to the less-than-sprawling-metropolis of Modesto, we rented a car and began our ascent into the low Sierra Nevada. East central California looks implausibly like Corsica. It has hairpin roads with mountains looming on one side and cliffs plummeting into oblivion on the other. It has loose yellow sandy soil, and it has plenty of low scrubland and pine forests rolling over it all.

Yosemite National Park itself is very definitely in that mould. After driving across miles of near-deserted roads, we finally went through a tunnel blasted from the mountains and arrived in Tourist-ville, CA - a busy car park overlooking Yosemite Valley from the West end. From here, we could see the spray coming up from Bridal Veil Falls on one side of the valley, and El Capitan, a monstrous single piece of granite, 3000 feet high, on the other.

After joining a million other amateur photographers in failing to capture the majesty of this sight on film, we drove down into the Valley, parked the car and took a bus over to the base of a worryingly steep forested hillside. This was the beginning of the path that we intended to take, that would lead us to the top of the valley wall, from where the Yosemite Falls crash 2500ft to the floor below.

The trail, like the roads, consists of a series of hairpin bends, leading first through pine forest, then later emerging onto a sort of dusty scree. In some places, the path goes close enough to the Falls to ensure all walkers get a blissful spray of cold water, in which impossibly close rainbows are formed. In other parts of the trail, the entire valley floor is visible like an immaculately drawn map. After sweating my way to the top in pursuit of Neil's pace, I was rewarded with the grandeur of the proper view - the whole map of the valley laid out below. Yosemite Falls (apparently the 5th highest in the world, if you count all three installments together) is best seen from the vertigo inducing observation platform, which is served by a test-of-faith style rail-less stone-carved stairway. The only problem with this walk, especially after the isolation of Glacier Bay, was the number of people there. Walking up the path is like going along a busy street in rush hour - it's packed.

On our return, we detoured to Glacier Point, which claims to be the best view in the world. A strong claim, and it does afford a fabulous view over the Eastern end of Yosemite Valley, but it doesn't really compare to the view from the top of Yosemite Falls, which must be earned by hiking rather than strolled to from the nearby car park.

During our drive, we also came upon two very obliging black bears. In both cases, we drove up behind a row of badly parked cars surrounded by camera-toting tourists, peering into the thin wood by the road. Stopping, we saw that said tourists were snapping bear photos, and hence we duly joined them, keeping a suitable distance. Some of the photographers were definitely approaching closer than the Ranger-mandated 100 yards of the bear, so we left them to be mauled in their own time.

posted by paul campbell 7:07 PM

Saturday, May 22, 2004

San Francisco, the hilly city: Well, San Francisco is certainly the most topographically interesting city we've visited so far. Unlike almost all the other cities in North America we've tried so far, it sprawls across a couple of great steep hills. A big contrast to the flatness of Chicago, New York, and particularly Montreal (which is so flat you'd get vertigo on a molehill). Our accommodation was a hostel in a beautiful restored hotel, in a decidedly rough area of town. Still, once you walked a few blocks in the right directions, it seemed like a pleasant city. All the hills make walking round the place rather exhausting, but on the other hand, most of them end up with great views of the city and the bay area. To remind us of home, we spent an evening in a Scottish theme pub, called the Edinburgh Castle, which even has authentic sticky floors.

We visited the huge Golden Gate Park, which is split amongst a series of sports parks, meadows, ornamental gardens and boating lakes, all the way up to the edge of the ocean. We wandered westwards, pausing only to either take in the interesting sights, climb a small hill topped by an artificial waterfall, and get embarrassingly lost in a botanical garden about the size of a football pitch. As nice as the park was, the highlight for me came at the extreme Western end - the Pacific Ocean. It is an awesome sight, roaring in all the way from Hawaii and Japan and China. The beach at which it meets the land of San Francisco is a desolate, wind-swept place, filled by optimistic wind-surfers and kite-fliers. I took a step into an approaching wave, intending to wet the soles of my shoes. Naturally, I misjudged and ended up with damp ankles.

Our other, more touristy excursion was to Alcatraz island. The boat ride from the pier takes in the picture-postcard views of the San Francisco skyline and the famed Golden Gate Bridge. Once onto the island itself (a far better place to take photos, I found), we took in a short historic tour of the island, from a very enthusiastic ranger, and then moved to the famous bit - the Alcatraz State Penitentiary. It's pretty well preserved, and there is an excellent audio tour which is narrated by former guards and inmates. It was easily worth the queuing to get on the boat. Even the island is beautiful, surrounded as it is by bright blue sea, and sunlit through a bright blue sky, with lush greenery sprouting all over, and cormorants and seagulls nesting all over the place.

posted by paul campbell 5:36 PM

Portland: Portland, like Vancouver, has a certain European feel to it. Also in common with other cities in Northwest US and Southwest Canada area, Portland is often considered one of the best cities to live in, according to our guidebook; and sure enough it is an attractive location. Before we had arrived, I was struck by the charm of the Oregon scenery - myriad shades of greens and browns blending in lush early summer countryside, with rivers winding their way gently down between hills and, eventually, under the surprisingly picturesque bridges over which our eight-lane freeway chugged. This slightly jarring contrast aside though, our eight hour journey from Vancouver was a pleasant one; even the U.S. Customs officials near the west coast seemed more relaxed than their eastern counterparts.

Inside the city of Portland, the bus was greeted by the now familiar sight of a glass fronted skyline, but one less cluttered than the likes of Seattle and Chicago. Downtown Portland lived up to its billing as a clean, neatly laid out district with a frequent, well run bus service - even the bus driver seemed delighted to be there - and the streets were in general less crowded than you might expect at the heart of a moderately large city. The Greyhound station was also a welcome change from the insanitary horrors of Seattle's equivalent.

Our base in Portland was another HI hostel, set in the trendy Hawthorne district (described by a fellow passenger as 'earthy') on the southeastern banks of the Willamette river. Though a little out of the centre of things, the location did put us in striking distance of a couple of decent brewpubs, serving cheap beer made on the premises, much to my delight.

A short bus trip took us back across the bridge into downtown, where we whiled away our only full day in Portland. The only point of note, apart from the general but unremarkable niceness, was our stop at Powell's City of Books, and independent bookstore laying claim to the honour of being the largest of its type in the world. Large it is, divided into nine colour-coded zones and with a free (and necessary) map available at the desk. It is also attached to a coffee-shop, though it came as a refreshing surprise to find that this was no Starbucks, SBC or Cafe Nero, but served considerably better drinks than any of these.

Before long, we had tired of books and maps, and went on a brief but productive shopping spree to take advantage of Oregon's generous 0% sales tax, and from there it was a simple matter of hostel, brewpub, hostel, shops, brewpub, and back to the station to head south once more.

posted by Neil Campbell 4:23 PM

Beautiful British Columbia: Our time in Vancouver was mostly spent in full-on, chilled out holiday mode, rather than the relentless sight-seeing mode we've been in since we stepped off the plane at JFK. Still, it is pleasantly set between the mountains and the sea, and has a good amount of green, which always helps any city in my eyes.

What little sight-seeing we did was limited to the so-called 'historic district' of Gastown, an area so old that some of it literally dates back to, er, before the Great War. And it also contains the world's least interesting sight - a steam powered clock that whistles weakly every 15 minutes. Luckily, there was a horde of appreciative tourists clapping to give the place the sense of irony it so richly deserved. Other than that, downtown Vancouver is an amiable kind of city, with a library that looks like it should be staging chariot races.

Stanley Park, the only part of Vancouver I'd actually heard of before our arrival, is a very pretty park, full of the few trees that escaped some serious logging, and also full of walkers, skaters, runners and lovers. I liked it. It was here that we played a round of pitch and putt, a game at which we all turned out to be woefully inept. Neil finished first with an impressive 30 over par, closely trailed by Emma - only a single stroke was the difference. Karen and I brought up the rear with a mighty number of shots - it's a shame we didn't play it as first-to-one-hundred.

The only other notable incident in Vancouver was meeting up with Karen's relatives, John and Laurie. It was again nice to see a friendly face, and they very generously treated us to a slap-up meal, before returning to their Scottish country dancing class.

posted by paul campbell 4:16 PM

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Alaska, and our wild moose chase: The group at the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park

Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is a place of contrast. Basically, everything man-made is ugly, everything else is nice.

We visited downtown Juneau, and found it to be a very small town, filled with unattractive wooden buildings, and a series of uninspiring, gift-shop laden streets. The most notable event here was finding a tourist information centre, at which we were told that the only way of reaching Gustavus (the next stop) would be to get a plane to Skagway or Haines, then charter a private boat. This caused us to sweat a little, until we found that a series of local airlines are willing to fly there.

The natural wonders surrounding Juneau, on the other hand, are far more interesting. We took a bus ride up to the Mendenhall Glacier, a 12 mile long, 1.5 mile wide, 150 foot thick sheet of ice. Impressive would be the word. It also has the advantage of being rather more easily accessible than the glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. This was definitely making up for the inhabited part of Juneau. Also, a waterfall from Nugget Creek crashes down into the Mendenhall Lake, which would almost be an attraction in it's own right, if only it weren't dwarfed by the grandeur of glacier.

Our trip to Gustavus (pop. 421) involved taking a plane which was so small that I was seated quite literally in the co-pilot's seat complete with a spare set of controls. The emergency instructions consisted of a manual on how to fly the plane if the pilot was taken ill. Still, it was a great experience, taking a plane that literally wouldn't have flown but for our business, which flew so low we could pick out individual trees on the islands we flew over, and individual waves in the water of the Inside Passage below. From now on, we declared, we would only fly by chartered light aircraft. We were immediately impressed with the friendliness of Gustavus - the lady from the airline who met the plane at the airstrip to pick up the mail rather generously gave us a lift to our lodging, although Neil did have to pay for this by being sat upon by her dog.

Our lodging turned out to be essentially a shed (a nice shed, though) in the middle of a forest, run by a couple of near-hippies. Still, it was warm and well equipped, even though the water had a sulphur smell and didn't taste too nice. And we got free use of some dodgy-looking bikes, which were probably dangerous, but it didn't matter, because Gustavus is as flat a pancake and has basically no traffic to speak of.

A moose!

Our first day in Gustavus, we got up far too early and began our moose hunt. We walked on a nearby trail which followed a pond, and was apparently a great place to see moose in the morning or evening. Evidently, they didn't wish to be seen, as there was nothing present larger than a sparrow. Still, undeterred, we took the bikes for the 8 mile (each way) journey up to the tiny land-accessible section of Glacier Bay National Park. A ranger there pointed us in the direction of a few trails known to be good for moose watching, but after a little walking, though the ground was literally covered in moose tracks, there was nothing to see at all. Arriving at the start of our last trail, we finally found a moose waiting for us in the forest no more than 10 yards from the road. And, she had a yearling calf to boot. Sadly for the photography buffs, she was well hidden by trees,though right next to the path, so we decided to walk the trail from the other end in the hope that she would have moved without us disturbing her. Arriving almost at the same place, but from the opposite direction, we came upon the same moose, standing next to a beautiful sunlit pond. She must have known we wanted a good show, as this time the moose obligingly waded into the middle of the pond, in great light, to allow us all the photos we could desire. Hurrah, the wild moose chase was over!

We could hardly visit Glacier Bay National Park without seeing some glaciers, so we chartered a plane to take us on a flight-seeing tour of the park. Our route took us flying low over the dazzling white snow of the 500-square mile Brady Icefield, then down Lamplugh Glacier to where it calves monster icebergs into the Bay. The pilot seemed disappointed at not seeing any animals, but it was the scenery we were interested in, so it was fine with me.

Finally in Gustavus, we went sea-kayaking, in the aptly-named Icy Strait. We donned about a ton of waterproof and life-saving gear, and then boarded our two-man kayaks and paddled off toward Pleasant Island. I found the kayaking very peaceful, as the water was surprisingly calm, and the sun surprisingly hot (compared to my expectations for Alaska). We also got to see some wildlife, including bald eagles (apparently so common in Alaska they're known as "pigeons with good PR"), sea otters, sea lions, harbour porpoise, and, most impressively, humpback whales.

You could spend a while wandering round south-east Alaska before you got tired of the scenery.

posted by paul campbell 10:07 PM

Photos: We've finally found a net-cafe which lets us download our digital photos, so we've retrospectively added a few pictures to our previous blogs below. Enjoy!

posted by Neil Campbell 9:49 PM

Coffee coffee coffee: Seattle is perhaps best noted for Frasier, the coffee, and the grunge scene. Now that the heyday of Seattle grunge has passed and Frasier has reached its conclusion, one might be tempted to think that Seattle was running out of attraction for visitors, but nothing could be further from the truth.

From the evidence of the three days we spent there, Seattle is an excellent place to be, and in fact it is now top of my list of potential future places to live in North America. Foremost among the city's pleasing aspects for me was the exquisite campus of the University of Washington. The University District is based around University Way, host to a student-friendly blend of coffee shops, pubs and bookstores, while the nucleus of the campus itself is a huge fountain with the stunning backdrop of Mount Rainier in the Cascade Mountains. The buildings of the University surrounding this centrepiece offer an interesting variety of architectural styles.

Back in downtown Seattle, we seemed to spend the majority of our time wandering in and out of coffee houses, guzzling frappucinos, cappucinos, hot chocolates, mochas and lattes by the gallon. By the end of a day's travel, which took in the typical tourist spots like the quaint Pike's Place Market (complete with fish-throwing extravaganzas), we were forced to visit the Pikes Place Pub and Brewery for a few pints of the extra strong Kilt-Lifter Ale to sedate ourselves sufficiently to be able to sleep.

The final day saw us visit the Seattle Center, a tacky collection of overpriced museums and sub-standard tour operators surrounding the Space Needle, the symbol of Seattle since 1962. Unfortunately, this most dominant feature of the skyline hasn't aged at all well, and is now little more than an eyesore compared to the rest of city's modern glass facades. A short distance from the Seattle Center in Belltown, I accidentally stumbled across the headquarters of Sub Pop Records, made famous for signing Nirvana and other notable grunge bands back in the early nineties, and although a front door is all there is to be seen of the company I felt as though I had completed a sort of cultural pilgrimage, and the next morning I contentedly wished Seattle a fond farewell, leaving for the great wilderness of Alaska from Sea-Tac airport.

posted by Neil Campbell 9:21 PM

Saturday, May 08, 2004

More Yellowstone: A bison strolls past the car window

To reiterate, Yellowstone Park is astounding. Not only is it like another world, it's like several different worlds combined; sulphurous geysers and bubbling springs here, great multi-layered canyons there, rocky snow-capped peaks surrounding sun-bathed plains, and - in my opinion the best part of all - an abundance of wildlife.

Within a few minutes of driving through the park entrance, we began to see small groups of bison (or buffalo) clustered in clearings beside the roads. At the first opportunity we stopped in a layby to watch these great beasts more closely, and before long they had wandered out onto the road, only several feet from the car, calmly moving along on their way. When they're close, you really appreciate the size of them. Larger than a cow and much more sturdily built, bison weigh in at around 2000 pounds. A bison's head, though, still seems too big for its body; about the size of a well-filled rucksack and considerably harder, a bison's head also sports a pair of nasty looking horns. When you put all this together in a package that can outrun a human, you start to be a little wary of them, and perhaps a little relieved that they are largely unagressive unless provoked.

It's incredible to watch the bison striding along on their way, and to see how unconcerned they are with the presence of humans; when the bison need to cross a road it's the cars that have to stop. On more than one occasion we had to wait in a line of three or four cars while a bison meandered slowly along the centre of the road. After a few days you start to get the feeling that nature more-or-less has its own way in Yellowstone.

The first few miles of travel in the park also showed us a herd of elk grazing peacefully on a grassy plain, as well as a pair of trumpeter swans fishing in the Madison River. Before long we had also seen bald eagles, pelicans, osprey and chipmunks, but the best was yet to come.

Our second day in the park took us to the Mammoth Springs area, where on a glorious sunny afternoon we left the car to hike across some of the Yellowstone backcountry trails. After trekking through beautiful forests, up steep slopes, and even around beaver pools and dams, we came to a fork in the path. As we paused, pondering which route to take, Karen spotted, no more than 30 metres ahead, a bear grazing calmly amongst the trees and bushes. The bear, probably of the larger grizzly variety, didn't seem to notice us, or at least didn't object to our presence, so for a few brief but magical moments we were able to observe this magnificent creature in its own environment before deciding to back away and leave it in peace. Park regulations recommend keeping a distance of 100 metres from bears, so rather than try to pass by it we opted to turn back and retrace out steps back the way we had come, letting the bear continue with its business undisturbed.

posted by Neil Campbell 6:07 PM

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Scenery in Yellowstone: Yellowstone has been the highlight of the trip so far. We spent only 6 nights in West Yellowstone, but we could have quite happily stayed for months. In fact, we're all going to apply to be Park Rangers there, except they'd have to promise to remove all the bears and move the park about 6000 feet closer to sea level. There's so much to see and do, either this'll be the longest post so far, or I'll have to miss most of it out. In any case, I'm not sure I can really do it justice with words.

First thing, we rented a car in Bozeman, Montana. This turned out to be essential - Yellowstone National Park is just so big , even with a car, and more than half of the roads still closed from the winter, we still didn't see more than a tiny fraction of the park. On foot, we'd have seen a few miles inside the gate - too close to civilisation for most of the interesting stuff. Just driving round the park looking at the scenery would have been plenty to justify the entry fee. There are huge, towering, snow-capped, pine-furred mountains all around. There are grand forests, filled with either ancient conifers or new baby trees, just pushing their way up since a wildfire in 1988. There are great river plains, complete with herds of elk and bison meandering over them. And, probably my favourite bit of 'normal' scenery, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

This huge glacier canyon has great steep sides, an equal mix of tenacious pine and sheer scree, winding it's way along several miles, bottomed out with a misfit river, the Yellowstone. At one end of the canyon are the Lower and Upper Falls. The Lower Falls are one straight drop over the edge, into the proper canyon, quite impressive, narrow, but high. My personal preference, though, was for the much-smaller Upper Falls. The Upper Falls consist of a series of drops, broken up by outcrops and boulders, which has the effect of causing as much flying white water as possible. At the time of our visit, the sun was in exactly the correct position to turn all this white water into a mass of flying silver droplets, and the spray into a rainbow.

The other kind of scenery in Yellowstone is all to do with the geothermal features - mudpools, paintpots, hot springs, and those crowd pleasers, the geysers. The odd thing about all these things, is that as beautiful as most of them are, they destroy all the surroundings, either by boiling them or coating them in chalk layers. So it looks like something that could be on the moon, and some of them have calcified plants embedded into them.

Old Faithful was worth a watch, especially as it's so predictable. We found it's much better to enjoy it from upwind though - otherwise, all the steam just blows into your face, and you see nothing at all. My two favourite features though, were much less celebrated. The Anemone Geyser, which is among the smallest geysers with names is particularly interesting because it has such a fast cycle. In less than 10 minutes, we watched it go from an empty pool, fill up, boil, overflow and then erupt (about 5 feet or so, not much by the standards of the bigger geysers), and finally empty again.

Less of a spectacle is the awe-inspiring beauty of the Morning Glory Pool. It needs no crass explosions to draw it's fans - it just sits there, just below boiling point, a small pool out on it's own. Except that it is incredibly clear, and it's colours differ by depth, from sky blue at the bottom, up through green, and the lip of the pool is orange and even red-brown at the very edge. The more famous Grand Prismatic Pool is a bigger version of the same thing, except it creates so much steam, and it's so huge, that it's impossible to see it properly from the ground.

That's more than enough for a single post, so I'll leave the animals and events of Yellowstone for later. And probably for someone else.

posted by paul campbell 1:04 AM

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Long journey: From Chicago we endured a journey of around 33 hours to Bozeman, Montana. Our journey started with a 5.30am taxi ride to the bus station, and from there the 7am Greyhound bus. Although we were fairly near the front of the queue for the bus, at the time of boarding we were struggling with our bags and the rest of the queue pushed in front of us. Luckily Emma had been able to retain her place in the queue and saved some seats for Neil, Paul and I allowing us all to sit together.

Then we were off.

By 5pm we had reached Minneapolis and had an hours break here to allow for the servicing and cleaning of the bus. The journey so far had been fairly good, and with stops every couple of hours for a stretch of the legs and toilet breaks seemed to pass quite quickly. After the cleaners had done their job we returned to the bus and continued our journey. Later we stopped for a meal break and had our second McDonalds of the day (I don't know why they had both stops at a McDonalds) before carrying on to Fargo. By the time we reached there it was 12.40am and once again we were all asked to leave the bus for cleaning and servicing. An hour later we all sleepily returned to the bus and promptly fell asleep. Although the comfort factor only allows you to sleep for about 1 1/2 hours before waking up to change position I think we all got a fairly good amount of sleep.

Our next meal stop was at 6.45am (we had changed to Mountain Time by this point going back an hour) at a little cafe which the driver seemed to rate very highly. We were all far too sleepy to eat so waited a bit and had our provisions later. Further along the road the driver turned into a tour guide and kept us all informed that we were passing by Roosevelt National park and various historical facts. He also told us where to look out for wild animals and as a result we spotted some buffalo, antelope and a wild turkey. This passed a bit of time and as the scenery was becoming ever more spectacular, it wasn't long before we arrived in Billings. Here we changed bus and arrived in Bozeman at around 4pm, completing our journey.

The journey was far better than I expected it to be and seemed to go fairly quickly. It did get a bit boring at times though as the only things to do were look out the window, sleep, or read (which can be a bit risky if you get travelsick). Hopefully it will be the longest journey we have to do.

posted by Karen Lang 2:24 PM

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Chicago: Karen, Neil, Paul and Emma in front of the Chicago skyline

Chicago turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip so far. Bathed in sunshine and with the temperature approaching 30 degrees, by far the hottest of our travels thus far, we strolled in amongst the multifarious towers for several hours. In so far as I am capable of appreciating architecture, I was taken by the elegance of many of the sky-scrapers, much more so than in the other cities we had visited.

The skyline includes, among others, the Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world, and the black, monolithic 1971 IBM Building, located next to two huge spiral-shaped apartment blocks. Most interesting of all, though, was the Tribune Tower - a strange, gothic-style building that looks as though it has a cathedral built on top. On the lowest floor of the tower, bricks and rocks from other locations around the world are built into the walls, including a piece of the Great Pyramid in Egypt and a brick from the British Houses of Parliament.

Also worth looking at in Chicago is the public library, a beautiful building on the inside, with marbled floors, fountains and other luxuries not found in the libraries to which I am accustomed. We also found time to wander through Grant Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan, and although the enormous decorative fountain wasn't turned on, the park does offer a great view of the rest of the city as well as some refreshing greenery.

posted by Neil Campbell 1:10 PM

Then there were four: Our stay in Cleveland was limited to one night, with the City being merely a convenient stop en route to Chicago. It was there, however, that we had to part company with Mhairi, who sadly had to return to the real world of work. We had our final meal as a quintet in a seeminly deserted downtown Cleveland, and as Mhairi made her way back toward New York the following morning we started out for Chicago.

posted by Neil Campbell 1:06 PM

Erie, part 2: So, after a delay of only around a week, I have a chance to complete my version of the events in Erie. Our second day in Erie was spent trying to do what we'd come for - visit Presque Isle State Park. The whole point of visiting Erie was to find a place to visit that wouldn't involve spending time in a large city, which was where we'd spent practically the entire previous 3 weeks, if you discount bus trips.

We had originally intended to go to Presque Isle (really a peninsular, although it is near) by way of a boat bus, but, in what was to become something of a theme, it was closed for the season. So, instead, we took a local bus out of town to a dusty road surrounded by fastfood outlets and fishing bait shops (sometimes rolled into one, rather worryingly), and walked a mile down hill to the shore of Lake Erie, and the entrance to the park. There are apparently about 18 miles of road and trail around Presque Isle, but after an hour or so of wandering either along a deserted (but beautiful) beach or through an avenue of leafless trees, we decided to head back. Still, the view of the lake was wonderful, bright blue under a clear sunny sky, so it wasn't like it was wasted time. The view of Erie from Presque Isle was less inspiring, seeing as it consists mostly of low-rise industry.

In the evening, Emma, Mhairi and I decided to try out some American sport, in the form of baseball. The local team, the Erie Seawolves (rather a ferocious name for such a wussy sport, but there you go) had the first game of the season in their minor league, against the Bowie Baysox. It was an enjoyable enough experience, trying to work out what the rules were, and how it differs from rounders (not much). I don't think I'm about to become a fan, though - it was about 3 hours of playing before we got any excitement - the last ball of the game could have won it for the visitors, if the worst batter on the team had managed to get a home run with loaded bases. Not surprisingly, he failed, and the home team duly won. The fans seemed fairly disinterested too, coming and going and generally not paying much attention to the game. I shouldn't judge too harshly though, as it was probably the equivalent of watching Brechin City play East Fife.

posted by paul campbell 1:05 PM

Erie, part 1: As Neil was unwell for practically our entire stay in Erie, Pennsylvania, I thought I'd best fill in the details. We'd already been prepared for the worst, when the US Immigration official asked us why exactly we'd wish to visit Erie if we only had 3 months to do the entire continent of North America.

The start was not a great one - the bus station in Erie consists of a small waiting room in the middle of a strip of fast-food places. Our arrival was met by mist and pouring rain, leaving visibility at about 200 yards, notwithstanding all the neon which greeted us. A local bus took us pretty much directly the motel we stayed at, and the first night, that was about as far as we made it. I had a wander round town, which is mostly low rise, and frankly, parts of it are quite run down. It seems that Erie has shrunk from it's heyday as the fresh-water fishing capital of the world, a status it held in about 1920 or so.

Still, the next day was much improved, with sun shining and such like. It's amazing what a bit of sunlight can do for your opinion of a place. Leaving Neil to his deathbed, Emma, Mhairi, Karen and I headed down to the lake shore to visit the Erie Maritime Museum, a building more or less entirely dedicated to glorifying the exploits of the fledgling US Navy in defeating the British in about 1812. The museum itself was pretty run of the mill, but outside was docked a re-built frigate, the Niagara. Although it was only made in 1988, it's fairly authentic, apart from a few coastguard friendly additions, such as GPS, and engines. And the guns don't work of course. We were shown round it by an extremely enthusiastic local volunteer, who couldn't wait to tell us about the ins and outs of naval life of the day, right from the firing of the guns down to the checking of water depth. As a result, that evening in the motel, we got Master and Commander on pay-per-view, and I for one was impressed by how many things we'd heard about in the museum were in the film, practically verbatim. Perhaps the guide was a technical assistant on the film.

posted by paul campbell 1:04 PM

Back in the USA: After leaving Niagara, we were subjected to the usual rough treatment by the ill-mannered US Customs officials on entry back into the US before being dropped off in Buffalo, NY. The two hour change-over on the buses gave us ample time to decide that Buffalo wasn't really worth visiting, and we were glad to be back in transit again towards our next stop, the small town of Erie on the south side of Lake Erie.

Upon arriving at Erie, I fell ill with some kind of food poisoning and more or less spent three days in bed. So that's all I really have to say about that, other than to note that out of a selection of arcade machines in the corner of the Erie bus terminal, the most recent was Mortal Kombat, circa 1993. From what I had seen of the town, this seemed quite telling.

posted by Neil Campbell 12:34 PM

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Waterfalls: Our next stop was the town of Niagara Falls. In this grotty, tacky little town, the falls themselves are the only attraction, and when the tourist interest declines in the winter, much of the town shuts down.

The Niagara River, which flows from Lake Erie to feed Lake Ontario, is split into two separate waterfalls by Goat Island. The smaller of the two, the American Falls, is somewhat underwhelming, and holds little intrigue. The larger, Horseshoe Falls, is rather more spectacular, a great crescent shaped falls of around 50m height. After a heavy winter in the area, large pieces of ice could still be seen plunging over the descent and into the river below.

However, don't believe the hype. The falls, though undeniably worth seeing, were to my mind less impressive than those of Montmorency, and the rest of the town is utterly soul-destroying. Many companies now offer tours to Niagara which include bus travel from Toronto, a 2-3 hour stay, and the return bus journey, and it's clear now that this is an altogether better option.

posted by Neil Campbell 9:43 PM

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Toronto: Toronto, a five hour bus trip south-west of Ottawa, is a much larger settlement and boasts the CN Tower, the world's largest free-standing structure. Somehow, though, the trip up the tower was disappointing; to visit the Sky Pod, the highest publicly accessible level, costs over $20, and all you really get is a view of some buildings and a lake. It isn't something you can really spend a lot of time enjoying, and even in the off-peak season we spend more time queueing for lifts than doing anything else.

Far more entertaining was our first Ice Hockey match. When we arrived, Toronto was in the grip of 'playoff fever', with the Toronto Maple Leaves playing the Ottawa Senators in a seven match series. We took to the local Firkin bar to watch the home side beat Ottawa 2-0 and level the series, and at the same time learned the great attraction of the game: mindless, unpunished violence for an hour. Lovely.

posted by Neil Campbell 3:24 PM

Ottawa: The most notable aspect of our stay in Ottawa was the accommodation. The hostel was a county jailhouse up until 1972, when it was closed due to inhumane living conditions, and given the size of the remaining cells it's surprising that it lasted as long as it did. In 1973, the building was bought and renovated by Hostelling International and it now offers pretty standard hostel-like rooms, although one full floor and part of the basement were left intact to retain some of the history of the building.

Guided tours are now run nightly, showing the tiny solitary confinement cells death row, and the gallows used for Canada's last public execution as well as two other hangings since.

Ottawa itself is a nice city, albeit one with few surprises. We took a pleasant wander along the river, and back up by the Canadian Houses of Parliament, and the following day passed some time in the Canadian National Gallery, which has some superb exhibits even for a non-sophisticate like myself. We spent the evenings sampling the local pubs of Elgin Street with my good friend Fraser, and two days later we were on our way to Toronto.

posted by Neil Campbell 3:16 PM

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

HELP: Help us. We have made it to Ottawa, but are in jail.

Only joking, well partly! We are in a converted jail which hosted (is that the word?) the last Canadian public execution. It still has many of the features of an old jail and we are sleeping in a cell! There are tours where you can learn the history, but we might leave that until tomorrow so that we get at least one nights sleep!

posted by Karen Lang 7:07 PM

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

On Quebec and Montreal: Mhairi, Paul, Emma and Neil near the top of Montmorency Falls

Quebec is certainly the city that has impressed me the most so far. Unlike some of our destinations, I had no preconceptions of what Quebec would be like. In fact Quebec is, in so far as we explored it, a very beautiful place.

The old town (Vieux Quebec) is huddled around a citadel atop a small hill, encompassed by the original, and now partly restored, city walls. From the slopes of the old town's quaint streets, one can gaze out over the huge Saint Lawrence river, which as late as April continues to carry large floes of ice down towards the sea.

Probably the most spectacular aspect of Quebec, however, is Montmorency Falls (le Chute de Montmorency), a few miles from the city. Crashing down some 100 metres into a river still almost completely covered with thick ice and snow, the falls alone make a visit to Quebec worthwhile. From the suspension bridge above the waterfall it is possible to take in a breathtaking panorama stretching from the falls themselves to the point where they join the Saint Lawrence proper, and the snow covered city beyond.

Montreal represents an altogether different prospect. It shares little other than a language with its provincial capital; instead it is a large, sprawling city of characterless tower blocks and identical streets. Where Montreal seems to come alive, however, is with a pub-culture that we hadn't found in our earlier stops. The crowded bars full of friendly twenty-somethings drinking good quality local brews were a far cry from the empty Cheers-like experiences of Boston and New York. To be particularly recommended is Brutopia on Rue Crescent, where we supped and chatted happily with strangers until the small hours. In so doing, I felt for the first time that we had found something of the real essence of Canada, and Montreal was instantly forgiven.

posted by Neil Campbell 10:45 PM

Our Journey North: When we came to leave the hostel in Montreal we decided to try out the underground to get to the bus station and found it very easy to use. We caught the bus to Quebec and were so impressed that we decided to stay 3 nights instead of 2. Quebec is nicer than Montreal (in my opinion) and we had a private room for the 5 of us in the hostel which made a change from sharing with several strangers. The day we arrived we decided to go for a walk around and discovered very quickly how cold it is there. There is still ice on the rivers and a lot of snow around. We had a walk along the board way up to the citadel and then back to a restaurant that Emma had found in the Rough Guide book. The next day we took the bus to Montmorency Falls which completely freeze in winter. The falls themselves were not frozen when we were there, but the pools at the top and bottom of the falls were completely frozen! It was really impressive.

Yesterday we returned to Montreal and went out for a few drinks, actually finding a pub this time! Today we visited the stadium that staged the Olympics in the 70's (I'm not sure of the exact year) and a Biodome which has been built in the olympic bike track. It consisted of 4 different walk-through ecosystems and was good to see.

Tomorrow we are off to Ottawa and will be meeting up with a friend of Neil's from Uni who has recently moved there.

We all seem to be tired most of the time and keep going to bed very early, but I suppose that's us adjusting to travelling.

posted by Karen Lang 6:00 PM

Friday, April 02, 2004

Into Canada: With a vague feeling that we hadn't had a chance to do justice to Boston, we set off on the immaculate subway system to South Station to catch the 9am Montreal Express bus. This time there were no security checks as we boarded for the six hour journey into Canada.

Rolling northwards, we caught our first real glimpse of the beautiful New England scenery. Partially frozen lakes and streams nestled between great wooded hills, with most of the slopes still showing some remnants of the winter's snow.

Two hours into the journey came something of a revelation as we discovered what must surely be the true American Dream. At 11am the bus stopped for a forty-five minute break. Spotting an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet restaurant, we wrestled with our consciences for ten minutes before charging into the $5.95 buffet and eating as much as humanly possible in under half an hour. By 11.40 we were back on the bus, grossly overfed and groaning, wondering if the preceding events had really happened.

After negotiating customs, we pulled into a chilly, windy Montreal in the early afternoon and set off to find the hostel.

posted by Neil Campbell 10:40 AM

Onwards and Upwards: With the journey to Boston, we were effectively being thrust out into the unknown for the first time on the trip, as well as being given our first experience of the Greyhound service. New York's central bus terminal, just off Times Square, turned out to be an unpleasant, dirty place. Our bags were roughly searched by impatient security officials and cast haphazardly into the luggage compartment while we were marched onto a crowded coach.

Once aboard, however, there was cause for a brighter outlook. The driver cheerfully rattled through the usual announcements as we settled into our spacious and fairly comfortable seats, and in moments we were on the road again, racing through uptown New York, the suburbs, and out on to the open freeway.

Boston struck me as a pleasant, if not exactly inspiring city. It seemed more relaxed, with none of the fantic hustle and bustle encountered in so much of New York. A day of relentless torrential downpour forced us off our planned route and into the New England Aquarium; in interesting spectacle, but ultimately indistinct from any other large aquarium.

The rain refused to let up during our brief visit to the MIT campus, and as we crossed the swelling Charles River en route back to the hostel, we were forced to take refuge in The Last Drope. Boston proudly hosts the bar that provided the inspiration for Cheers, and although this wasn't it, there was a remarkable resemblance of character nevertheless.

posted by Neil Campbell 10:30 AM

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

New York, New York cont.: After Neil's jog we went on our first unsupervised trip on the underground, and managed to get it wrong. We paid for our tickets and went through the turnstiles only to find that the platform we were on was going in the wrong direction and there was no way to get to the other side without paying again. We decided to travel to the next stop in the hope that there would be a way to cross there. On arrival, we couldn't see any way over, so continued up the track until the line joined another which would hopefully take us in the right direction. We eventually arrived where we wanted to be, and from there we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. We saw the Empire State Building, a bit of Greenwich Village, Ground Zero and continued on to Battery park. After a bite of lunch we took the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. Back on dry land we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge and wandered halfway across.

We then decided that we were too footsore and tired to walk back to the apartment, so tried our luck on the underground again, more successfully this time! After a very long day, we ate, went to a bar for a very expensive drink then retired back to the apartment.

Today we are moving on from New York and jumping on the Greyhound to Boston where we are going to stay overnight before moving on to Montreal in Canada.

posted by Karen Lang 9:25 AM

Monday, March 29, 2004

New York, New York: It's now early evening on our second day in New York. Our first day, after the trials of immigration and customs, comprised a wander around Central Park. We stumbled upon a street 'artist' wearing a cape and inviting the public to watch his specially trained racing turtles. The act was fairly amusing, and certainly different, but in true British style we still refrained from tossing any coins into the ring at the conclusion.

The first thing I noticed walking around Central Park (which is really nice, incidentally) is the number of dogs. Almost every second visitor to the park is leading a dog a some sort, more often than not one of the pointless rat-shaped varieties. It's also very clean; although coming from Manchester I suppose most parks look clean in comparison. All around the park people seem to getting married; in the space of five minutes we passed at least four white-clad brides.

One lengthy sleep later, and the time difference was playing games with my body clock. I woke up at about 8am feeling incredibly energetic. I decided, more to justify having brought my trainers than for any other reason, to go for a jog around Central Park. Bizarrely, only three or four blocks from the apartment I happened to encounter a jogger from England who kindly agreed to let me run with him while he told me the places to go and sites to see. People seem friendlier here, although perhaps only to their countrymen. It's strange how the further you travel the more you feel connected to people from your own country.

posted by Neil Campbell 7:20 PM

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Safe arrival: After a long day and several thousand miles travelling, we've all arrived safely in New York and are staying with our gracious hosts for the next two nights. We're all a bit too spaced to utter anything remotely comprehensible, so we'll update the blog in a day or two when we're more compos mentis.

posted by Neil Campbell 7:08 PM

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ready for the off: Well, this will be the last post before we get to America. I've finished my final day at work, the bags are all packed, Emma, Mhairi and Paul have arrived from Edinburgh, and we've bought some cheap second hand books to pass the journey. The plane leaves at 10am tomorrow, and by midday localtime we should have landed in JFK airport.

So, it's up early (about 4am) tomorrow morning, and then a day of the usual stress and hassle of luggage check-ins, security gates, waiting lounges and safety procedures. The next time I write to this it should be from New York City.

posted by Neil Campbell 4:14 PM

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Journey Route: Here is a rough guide to where we will be going. The list is more or less in the order that we wish to visit places, but may change when we get there due to time factors and bus routes. We are flying to New York on the 28th March, and returning from New York on the 23rd June. Here is the list:

New York, Boston, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo (Niagara Falls), Port Huron, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Mount Rushmore, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Seattle, Alaska (1st May), Seattle (8th May), Vancouver, British Columbia, Portland, Klamath Falls, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Denver, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, El Paso, Juarez, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Charleston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York

posted by Karen Lang 9:23 AM

Introduction: A brief introduction to the people going on our trip around America for those of you who don't know who we all are. Neil and his brother, Paul, first had the idea of going on a trip around the USA. I am Karen, Neil's girlfriend. Also going with us are Emma, Paul's girlfriend, and Mhairi, Emma's sister. Mhairi is travelling with us for the first three weeks before coming back home. The rest of us will carry on until the 23rd June

posted by Karen Lang 9:09 AM

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Travel Diary Weblog set up: Right, I've set up this weblog (or blog, as they call them nowadays) to let us keep a record of where we're at and what we're doing while we're on our three month trip in the USA and Canada. I'll make a couple of posts before we go giving our rough plans for the journey, and once we're out there we'll probably try to post at least once a week if we can; although that won't always be possible.

posted by Neil Campbell 11:38 AM