Sunday, August 31, 2008

I think we got off lightly in Florida.....

Currently there is a Category 4/5 hurricane, Gustav, heading towards New Orleans, only about a week after we left. The whole city is being evacuated. And we thought our Tropical Storm Fay was bad enough!

So we left poor Geoff alone on Tuesday morning, and moved into our new flat in Milton Keynes. (Geoff has very graciously been putting up with having both us and Donna in his room at his flat - there was no actual floor space left!)

Carrying two huge bags each onto the Tube was a bit of a hassle, since there are lots of steps. The British are actually really nice - at each set of steps, strangers have helped us carry our bags down each time! In America, people are very friendly, but they don't usually offer to help you.

Our new flat is in Bradwell Commons, one of the nicer areas of Milton Keynes apparently. We also looked at Fishermead and Eaglestone, both of which are dodgy areas, but decided the slightly cheaper rooms didn't really compensate. We have four guy flatmates from Sri Lanka. They cook really yummy-smelling curry each day. We have the downstairs room, which opens onto the patio outside. It also has its own bathroom next to the kitchen. It's about 15 minutes' walk to the railway station from our house, and about 5 minutes' walk to the city centre.

Milton Keynes ('MK') as a city is the most American of British cities. It was manufactured about 40 years ago from three different villages, so it's a series of roundabouts arranged in a grid. The city centre itself is essentially a huge mall surrounded by various bland office buildings. Walking around, you mostly see car parks. It's a car city. In fact, the whole city is rather bland and boring for our tastes.

But we do feel that we've missed the interesting bits, and the "English village" look - maybe they're in Bletchley (part of MK) or something. MK is supposed to be an extremely hip and vibrant place to live for young people, but neither of us can see it. Although David Beckham occaisionally rents out the whole of the Xtreme building, which has the largest indoor ski slope in Europe. So I think we'll have to try that out at some stage.

We're at Martha's for the weekend, since Brendan has a course in London on Monday. We're about to go to the British Museum - it's incredible! Hopefully we'll have internet and a phone by Tuesday.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sitting in the airport....

In an hour, we depart for London! Being at the airport always sounds so glamourous. But the reality is that all airports look basically the same, and the minutes blend into one another in an interminable series of waiting in line, doing security checkpoints and sitting in bland waiting areas trying to find something to eat which is simultaneously remotely filling and healthy, yet not exorbitantly priced.

This is our third flight today - we didn't sleep last night. Miami to Charlotte, North Carolina at 6:30am, then an hour's stopover, then Charlotte to JFK Airport in New York. Now we're in New York, having not actually left the airport for far too many hours.

This afternoon, while Brendan ran some errands, I stayed with our baggage. I attempted mini-naps so as to both gain valuable sleep, and still keep an eye on our luggage. Usually I awoke with a start to find my arm somewhat damper than I remembered, and different people having lunch next to me. But an hour and a half of this game did actually help. The trick was to get yourself just to the point of sleep, and then to wake again so as to scare away any passing people of nefarious character. I probably won't know whether I was successful until we go through UK Customs, but all the bags are there at least.

Brendan's point of view on this: I went to do various important errands, and left Tina to protect the luggage. Tina fell asleep. Several times.

So, this is our last post here from America. See you in London!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay Update

We are currently staying in the lovely home of Brendan's boss, in Vero Beach, Florida. We're watching the rain and the wind outside - the tropical storm has spawned several tornadoes in the area. But the most serious casualties so far are a whole bunch of people without power, lots of broken sea turtle eggs (very sad), a pygmy sperm whale rescued by surfers down at Vero Beach and a vet clinic which got squashed. (The one horse inside was unharmed.)

It really is raining a lot - already 8.5 inches in the past few hours! There's a flood and tornado warning for our area, and the side of the storm is predicted to pass right over us! The whole street is a river of water. Brendan and I really want to get going to New Orleans (we're going to skip Miami for now for time reasons), but the tropical storm just isn't predictable. Although it seems that it might follow us across to New Orleans at the moment! We only have a few days left in America, and a lot to do.

The poor Fat Kiwi isn't liking the rain - the wood on the floor and backing over the stove have warped and buckled with the leaks pouring in. Rather upsetting.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Irony: Florida... the Sunshine State

We've just this minute crossed the Florida state line. The sign says, "The Sunshine State". It's dark, pouring with rain, and we may not be even able to go to Miami since a hurricane is about to hit Florida, and we're about to be in it! Brendan wants to see the hurricane. I want to go swimming. Conflicting goals.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What's it like, being on the road?

In a word, hot. The Fat Kiwi isn't really known for its air conditioning, although it works in a pinch (we got it fixed before we left). But America in general is pretty warm in the summertime. We're using up a lot of sunscreen. It seems you need to have SPF 50 or 70 for it to have any effect. And neither of us can live without sunglasses, particularly in national parks. The higher up you go in elevation, the clearer the air is, and hence the light is harsher. It's not for nothing that everyone in America seems to wear sunglasses.

The second word would be, busy. We imagined we'd have more time on the road to do blog posts, email etc, but in reality we get up reasonably early, make breakfast, and get on the road to our first destination of the day. We spend time at our destination, make lunch, get back in the car and drive some more to our next destination, rinse and repeat. Then around 10pm we start working out where we'll sleep for the night. Unless we're in a national park, when the problem should have been solved hours earlier (i.e. before lunch) or we're in trouble! By 11pm we make dinner, and fall asleep. This is our day. There is also lots of time spent stoppng for petrol.

At present, we only have one power point available. Usually this is taken up with the GPS charger and the power inverter to run the laptop. Except we're usually out of cell range somewhere in the wops so there's none or sporadic internet for blogging, and the laptop only charges when the Fat Kiwi is stopped. (Quirk of the car battery - don't ask.)

We're also spending an awful lot of time etc at the mechanic's! In the paraphrased words of a couple who did a year-long road trip around America: an RV is both a car, and a house. This means you get all the problems of a car, plus all the problems of a house. We just got out of the mechanic's in Mineapolis, and I think they did something to our house battery. Now when we wake up every morning, the house battery has drained overnight. Which means our fridge is a bit unhappy.

Overall though, it's fantastic that the Fat Kiwi is more like a house on wheels. Even if just for the fact of having a stove, a toilet, and running water. It means you can do things like park in a rest stop or Walmart car park for the night. And we're having lots of fun. More blog posts to come, promise.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Corn Palace!

We've spent most of yesterday and part of today driving through South Dakota and Minnesota. It's very green and flat, with lots of lakes. It features corn fields interspersed with what I suspect is potatoes since the leaves are so dark; windmills (it produces 60% of the country's wind power, I think); rustic farm buildings and cottages; and little small towns with a few hundred people. The main streets have hundred year-old buildings. It's really cute.

Minnesota is one of the main producers of ethanol, probably since the corn is all right there.

The humidity has also shot up to almost 100%, according to the guy outside the Walmart oil-changing area yesterday. (We've already hit 4,000 miles, so we wanted to change the oil.) We felt disgusting and sticky, and made sure we found a campground with showers. It was probably only 32 degrees C, but it was unbearable heat. Today is luckily overcast and much cooler, but still slightly sticky if you trail your hand outside the car window.

South Dakota has a Corn Palace, in a town called Mitchell. The outside of Corn Palace is covered in murals made from twelve different colours of corn.

The inside of Corn Palace functions variously as a basketball court, auditorium, marketplace and gift shop for the town. It has the cheapest concession food either of us have ever seen. We bought some corn on the cob to eat at Corn Palace, and some "cookie dough" candy. It was yummy. It also features the only "one-way traffic" toilets I've seen.

Various corn-related paraphernalia and associated festivals lined the walls inside.

In South Dakota, babies come from corn fields.

Somewhere last night we also crossed the time zone barrier, because when we woke up late and thought it was 9am, it was actually 10am. Oops. The Fat Kiwi is going back into the mechanics again, while we go to the Mall of America.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Travel Snippet: Old people discover the Continental Divide

The Continental Divide is essentially the point at which the US waterways split - the water on one side runs down to the Pacific Ocean, and the water on the other runs to the Atlantic. We crossed the Divide three times in Yellowstone.

At Craig Pass, Isa Lake actually drains into both oceans at once! (Granted, it should be called Isa Pond, since it's not that big.)

But it was hard to get a photo: there were elderly people wandering aimlessly around the sign and blocking it from view!

When we stopped at the next sign, I took a photo. I turned around - the same people were advancing rather fast. I almost, but not quite, ran.