Saturday, November 29, 2008

Keeping track

According to the facebook application that I've got that keeps track of the cities I've visited, I've now been to 21 countries! I'm pretty happy with that, considering I've never done a Contiki tour around Europe. And, 20 of those countries have been in the last five years. I can't wait to get rid of the photo I've got, never again will I get a 10 year passport!

Anyway, this evening I'm getting on an 18 hour bus to the Iguazu Falls - should be pretty awesome once I finally get there!!

Day trippin´

I can´t remember if I´ve used that subject line already on this blog, or the old one. Anyway, after a wasted day yesterday (I was out till 5am drinking rum with an Aussie rum conniseur - or that´s what he told me) lying in bed wishing to die, I woke afresh this morning excited by my day trip...

to URUGUAY!!

Yep, caught a nice speedy boat over there, meeting two American girls from my hostel and started off with a bit of a walking tour around Colonia, the oldest town in Uruguay. Very pretty with both Spanish and Portugese influences (you can tell a Spanish street from a Portugese by the drainage systems - the Portugese declined the streets on an angle towards the centre, while the Spanish put their drains on either side of the street like we do now.).

We then decided to hire a golf cart to drive around the area - it has a stretch of beach 5km long. Unfortunately, the weather was quite bad, and when it was my turn to drive back, I got absolutely drenched. Not to worry, a few stops in at the 5 museums around the main square (some taking as little as 2 minutes to walk through, great for people with short attention spans like me!) and a bit of Christmas present shopping and we were all dried out.

It was a fabulous day trip, and yet another stamp in the passport! I love it when immigration people flick through the pages trying to find a blank spot, and keep flipping, and keep flipping...not too much longer till it´s all filled up!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Kamal was right to ask: why are people so unkind?

I went on a crappy city tour this morning. We were in a big coach (though the air conditioning was nice) and were only able to get out at a few places, for 15 minutes at a time. After stopping in the main square, and at the local football team's stadium, we stopped at Camanito Street, which is full of brightly painted houses and now a big tourist trap. I walked down one avenue with lots of restaurants and one of the waiters started his spiel, trying to get me in to eat. I politely smiled and said "no gracias" and kept walking. He called out to me and said I was very beautiful...not reason enough for me to eat there. On my way back, he tried again and again, I said no. He grabbed at my arm and asked me where I was from. Perhaps I shouldn't have said 'bugger off' but that's no excuse for him clapping his hands loudly and calling me a bitch. Not impressed.

Eventually the tour ended, after getting just a taste of a few of the neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. I jumped out at Florida Street, which is a huge pedestrian avenue running at least five blocks. I enjoyed my stroll down the boulevard with a slight breeze blowing the air conditioning droplets on me, cooling me down slightly. I called in at a little snack bar to get some salami for the lettuce leaves I'd bought, and the young guy there was so much more charming and patient with my muy terrible espanol! I didn't mind the wink he gave me.

So far, not particularly in love with the place, and more than keen to get out into the countryside and up to the Iguazu Falls...it's only a 20 hour bus ride away!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm in Buenos Aires!

And in the words of Miranda Priestley, "that's all".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Machu Picchu

As if I'd withhold a story about my day at Machu Picchu!! I'm not going to outline every step I took, because frankly, we'd all be here all day. Suffice to say, the whole place is amazing, breathtaking, awesome, mindblowing etc. So I'm only going to tell you the story of my trek to the Sun Gate.

If you do the Inca Trail trek, the sun gate is where you get your first view of Machu Picchu. The guide I'd had on my tour in the morning had said the walk up to the gate was an easy incline and should take about an hour. Well, I definitely wouldn't call it a slight incline. The city is at 2,350 metres, the Sun Gate is 2,720...it took me about 45 minutes to get up there. Red faced, dripping with sweat and puffing madly (though the few others up there were the same!) I turned to finally enjoy the view I'd been restraining myself from peeking at on the way up. Spectacular. The city looked so small, dwarfed by Waynapichu, the peak that overlooks the city.

I found myself a shady, grassy spot and settled in to enjoy the view, a big drink and some biscuits. From that high, I couldn't really see the detail of the city, but knowing what was down there, and trying to imagine how it had all gotten there was mind boggling. I started the descent with an American guy, who reminded me very much of Putin from this photo...



Anyway, he was a bit scared about going down, even as buff as he was, so I left him in my dust. I was about half way down when something jumped out of the bushes on my left, and raced across the track in front of me. Something red, something with a fluffy tail and long nose. At first I thought it was a fox. Then I thought perhaps I shouldn't stand around in case it jumped out and bit me, as a course of rabies medication wasn't an attractive thought.

Then I heard a sound - sort of a clucking then whistling. I imitated it. And waited. And then...a little head poked out between two stems of bamboo. It was the most precious little face, with a long nose and big eyes that were looking right at me. In a split second, it jumped just as the first and ran across the track. I got a better look at its body - red and brown on the face and body, with the same colours in a stripey, bushy tail, about the size of a normal to small house cat (not a fat cat like Sam...just kidding Rowan!). I settled down on a nearby rock to wait for more, and I was rewarded for my patience. There must have been another 5 who came out nervously, stopped to look me over, then jumped the trail.

Eventually, I continued down the track - going down almost as hard as going up - and when I reached the bottom, and looked out over the city again, I quickly asked a tour guide what it was. He said the name in Spanish too quickly for me to catch, but said it was a native raccoon-type animal. He also said that I was very lucky to see one, and couldn't believe it when I said I'd seen over five. I've done a quick google search, but can't figure out what it is. Very unfortunately, the computer has decided not to let me upload any photos, so I can't even give you a visual clue. I will give 30 points to the person who can discover what it is from my description - with a link to a picture of it of course.

So, in conclusion - I've wanted to go to Machu Picchu for as long as I can remember - and like my visits to Petra and the Taj Mahal, it didn't disappoint. My day there coincided (give or take a day or two) with a year of being single, and the same feeling I got walking across the Golden Gate Bridge struck me again - it's a liberating thing to be able to go to the places I've always wanted to go, and do it on my own, and do it the way that I want to.

An incredible day, an incredible experience - I just wish I could share the 100+ photos I took with you right now!

I know a valley, a sacred valley

There must have been about 20 people on the bus with Lilliana, our annoying guide, for a trip around the sites of the Sacred Valley. After a quick stop at a tourist trip market, our first (real) stop was Pisaq (pronounced Pisa), which had some interesting ruins, and an excellent example of terrace gardening. The view from the top was spectacular, with a sighting of some snow on the Andes.

Then it was lunch at another tourist trip place (but conveniently, it was the only place around so where else could we go??) and onto Ollantaytambo (pronounced Oy-an-ty-tambo), which was pretty cool. As my little map says "a beautiful town that preserves vividly Incan urban planning of houses, streets and waterways, safeguarded by a breathtaking fortress with temples, hillside farming terraces and walls."

While I had originally wanted to take the train from Cusco straight to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu) I'm really glad I got the bus tour included. It was a great way to see the stunning Peruvian countryside, and good to get out and stretch the legs. I left the group in Ollantaytambo to get the train to Aguas Calientes, but had quite a few hours to kill. I hung out with three kids - Fernando who was 9 and his 11 year old twin sisters, Clara and Maria. They were playing elastics in between flogging their wares to passengers heading to and from the train. They were playing slightly differently to the way I had as a kid (their way was easier), and they were absolutely delighted when I showed them my way - which they quickly swapped to.

Clara had an Australian 20 cent piece and asked me how much it was worth in soles. I did a rough calculation and asked if I'd swap. I said she should keep it, and instead gave them all some biscuits, which they were pretty happy about.

The train ride reinforced how good the bus had been - we were crammed in like cattle! But we all made it in one piece, and I was delighted when I arrived at my hostel to find I had my own room. Anyone who's jumped from hostel to hostel will understand how wonderful that is! And the shower...water pressure!!! I fell straight asleep, excited about the day ahead.

And the inspiration for the title - well, being stuck on kid's TV I remembered the following - again no volume on this computer, so hopefully this works!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oi!

Can people please leave my spelling and punctuation alone!! I will defend my usually perfect grammar by reminding you that I have limited time to do these posts, on computers where the keyboards are all wonky, so youse (go on Steve, you know I'm right on that one!) can all put up with it!! Otherwise I might withhold my post on Machu Picchu...

To set the scene

Hopefully this clip works - the computer I'm on doesn't have sound. But behold - one of my favourite shows as a kid (Greg and I knew all the words and I distinctly remember us recording ourselves singing it), and something I was humming the past two days...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Taking it easy

Cusco is 3400 metres above sea level. I knew that this was 'altitude' and that you should acclimatise before doing, say, the 4 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Pichu. I knew I wouldn't be doing the Inca Trail (unfortunately, not enough time and not doing exercise for a year has left me quite unfit!), and didn't really think that acclimatising would be so bad.

I haven't really done much in the past few days (besides wandering around the markets, eating great Peruvian food etc) because I've felt really lethargic and dehydrated. I've been drinking litres and litres of water, and chowing down on the cocoa tea leaves that apparently help, and I finally woke up this morning feeling alive. Which is good, because tomorrow I start my journey to Machu Pichu.

In other news, I was reading my old housemate's blog (A Year in the Shit - it's linked on the right there) and had to post the same link she did to a story on Bangladesh's Rickshaw Idol...awesome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A photo!

Of Cusco

From South America (Nov-Dec 2008)

A special happy birthday shoutout

To James, it´s the best that I can do - it´s not like I was going to buy you a present!
Have a good one old man!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alpacary goodness

I'm staying in a lovely hostel in Cusco, Peru, based around an open courtyard which walks out onto a nice big square. I had a wander around town this afternoon, and it's a gorgeous city - cobblestoned streets, plenty of lovable strays roaming the street, and a tiny tiny woman leading an alpaca around.

I tried not to think about this when I went out with two Canadian guys for dinner tonight, and we all ordered the alpaca tenderloins. So delicious! Like a cross between pork and steak. Nom nom nom.

In other exciting news, I've finally been able to upload some photos to my site - these are just a mere fraction of the photos I've taken (1116 and counting). I'm up to New York, so there are still a few more to come. There are plenty of tourist shots, plenty of me (thought you'd appreciate that Mum!) and some of the more artistic ones I've tried to take. You be the judge!

An open letter to American Airlines and its passengers

Dear all,

Firstly, American Airlines, your ongoing selection of me for additional security testing on every single flight I've taken with you, and your complete and utter inability to explain why, sucks major eggs.

Secondly, serving a single cup of the non-alcoholic beverage of my choice does not constitute a "refreshment".

Thirdly, your inflight entertainment is woeful at best. "Meet Dave" was bad enough the first time around - it did not get any better on second or third inspections.

Finally, is it too much to ask to hire flight attendants who actually look like they give a crap about their jobs? Or who actually do their jobs?

To my fellow passengers - a few suggestions if I may be so bold:

Please. Please, when it comes time to find row 31 (hint: it's not right at the front and all the rows have the numbers on each and every arm rest), there is absolutely no need to piss fart around - putting your boarding pass bag in your bag, reapplying your lipstick or searching through your bag to find your earphones/ipod/lucky rabbit's foot - all the while blocking the aisle and causing a pile up of people behind you. Chuck your handbag on the seat (any seat in your row will do), get your carry-on into the overhead compartment, and get the hell out of the way.

When getting out of your seat for your fifth bathroom stop, or any of the ones preceeding it, you really don't need to grab the headrest of the seat in front of you. This causes that seat to be pulled back, and then released with some force when you let go, causing minor whiplash.

After you've done step one in reverse, and proceeded to cause another pile up of people wanting to get off the plane, please do not walk your family of four all abreast down the corrdior leading into the airport. There are people that don't need to walk at a snail's pace that really struggle to get around you.

I hope you'll consider my suggestions.
Best,
Carly.

P.S. To the somewhat spunky paraglider (obviously going through an early mid life crisis) who tried to chat me up at the back of the plane where the hosties had set out self service water - your "so do you come here often" line was inspired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mardi Gras baby!

I decided to check out the island of Algiers yesterday, after strolling through the French Market (stopping off for another serving of Beignets at Cafe du Monde) and along the waterfront. While on the free ferry across, I checked my map to see where to go. An ad at the bottom of the map caught my eye - for "Mardi Gras World". I'd read an article about Blaine Kern in an in flight magazine, but had forgotten all about it.

In a nutshell, Kern inc. makes over 70% off all the floats in the New Orleans mardi gras (which, incidentally, had its' inception the day before New Orleans was named) and Mardi Gras World is a working workshop, where floats are built or stripped down and altered. They also build a lot of giant 'props' - statues I guess - from pappier mache, styrofoam or fiberglass. It was a lot of fun - dressing up in mardi gras costumes, watching the artists at work, and simply admiring the craftsmanship.

I decided to forgo the free shuttle and wandered back to the ferry terminal, past a lot of really cute old houses. The ferry ride back was just as short and pleasant as before. I walked down to St Charles Ave to get the streetcar down there. Beautiful, beautiful houses (former plantations) lined the street, plenty of big old trees, and basically, a very very rich part of town. I only saw one house that had a board with a giant X on it - a sign that it was damaged in Katrina and that at least one person died.

All this had really taken it out of me, and I decided on another quiet night in. I was having an interesting, though shallow discussion with some people around the table, when we were joined by Sheely. A brassy blond from Texas, with the concentration span of a goldfish, she somehow weaved it into conversation that she wanted to be a mortician, a writer, and in marketing. She said she worked in a cabaret. A few minutes later, she somehow weaved in to the conversation that stem cell research is atrocious, and that it should be stopped because, not only is abortion abhorrent, but there's a black market for foetus arms and legs in China...not for stem cell research, but as a fountain of youth type cuisine.

Well, that kind of threw us. What do you say to that? A few seconds later, she asked me if I wanted to see her 'outfits'. I wasn't sure what she was referring to, but since I may have hurt her feelings in my questioning of her beliefs, I agreed. When she said she worked in 'cabaret', she actually meant 'strip club'. And was very excited to show me the new outfits (read: lingerie) she'd bought (all tax deductible too) to wear that night. She lives somewhere in Texas, and has two kids, but comes down here once a month or so to earn better money. Lovely lady, just a bit ditzy.

This morning, I found out how it pays to be friends with the chef. I'd been chatting to John last night, and he'd offered me a bowl of his homemade granola, which was delicious. This morning, after doing a few bits and pieces around town, I got home absolutely starving and was delighted to find out he was still serving breakfast. I asked him for the pancakes, and I couldn't tell if it was one extremely thick, or two quite thick pancakes the size of a dinner plate, with banana cooked in, and a sprinkling of granola on top. Delicious. The going rate for such a dish? $4.75. My price? $2. Sweet. Of course, I gave him a couple of bucks for his trouble, but that's why it always pays to know the chef!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Secret Katrina

Emma sent me a text with the suggestion for this post - the full title was actually "Pork s'wich & gut rot in New Orleans: Carly's Secret Katrina", which cracked me up and was too good not to use.

My afternoon was pretty awesome, barring the obvious. Greg's friend Michael's girlfriend Deanna, and her friend Kaylee picked me up and we headed to Frenchmen St, where the alternative book fair was taking place. I had thought it would be confined to one venue, but it was actually spread out in a few different bars, with lots of stalls set up. There were people selling comics and graphic novels, interesting homemade postcards, and even a stall where people could adopt shelter pit bulls. There were two extremely cute little pups, that didn't look like pit bulls, and were perhaps the best part of the day.

The street atmosphere was a lot of fun, lots of musicians and groups playing an eclectic mix of instruments, from a wonderful soprano sax (notoriously difficult to keep in tune) player, to a guy playing a saw like a cello, and a group of people who looked straight out of a Dicken's novel with accordions.

We wandered around for quite a while, and were joined by Michael, who was taking a break from recording an album with a band he's in. We decided to get some lunch at "13", an obviously popular spot, and I chose the pulled pork po-boy (that's a type of roll like a baguette but not as crunchy). It was absolutely delicious. And then, a disaster akin to Katrina struck...gut rot!! Six whole weeks, my stomach had almost forgotten the scourge of gut rot, only to fall victim once again.

The afternoon wound up soon after, with a quick stop in at Kaylee's house to drop her off. I love the different architectural styles in New Orleans, with the predominantly French and Spanish influences. Her place was 'shotgun' style - narrow, but very long. And if you were to open the back door and the front door, you could shoot a shotgun straight through. That, combined with the high ceilings, ensured a good airflow during summer before air conditioning was invented.

It was a somewhat a shame that it was me who got to meet Michael and go to the book fair, as it was something that Greg would have really enjoyed. And apologies Greggles, I've got no room in my bag left, so couldn't buy you anything!

Where every night is New Year's Eve

I had an awesome night last night. The build up was long, with the first beer cracked around 5pm, and the evening stretched out at the hostel with an epic game of "Lord of the Rings RISK"...very different to normal Risk, which is what I blame my second last finish on!!

Around 11ish a group of nine of us headed into Bourbon Street - a very different place in the evening as opposed to the day! It was crazy - neon everywhere, people packing the streets, and music of all genres pumping from different bars. One of the best things about New Orleans is that you can drink in the street, and carry your drinks from one place to the next (for the most part). So the street has just as much of a party atmosphere as inside any bar. I managed to catch some beads, thrown from a balcony - can't come to New Orleans and not leave with some beads!!

Our first stop, after picking up a huge Margarita in what looked like an extra large take-away coffee cup, was the Funky Pirate to see Big Al Carson - the man is huge!! We got there just in time for his last set of the evening, and while he's a big man, he can sure sing high! The Danish guys I was with had seen him the night before, and he'd played a bit of trumpet, but for the last set, obviously he was too tired to do that. We downed some test tube shots and moved on to the next bar, which I can't remember the name of, but was the originator of the infamous New Orleans "Hurricane" cocktail. By this stage, I'd had quite enough to drink, so didn't sample the house special, but there are still two more nights for that!!

Got home around 3ish, and was woken early by the poor girls who I'd been out with who had to pack and catch and early flight. Today, I'm off to the New Orleans alternative book fair, with a friend of my brother's. It's the start of the Fringe Festival today, so there should be some interesting things going on...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Links

I've just put in a lot of links in the New York post so that if you don't know Magnolia, or FAO Schwartz, you can actually see what I was talking about.

Nawlins

Well, here I am in the Big Easy, New Orleans. Spent last night drinking beer and playing cards with quite a few Danes, just taking it easy. The hostel I'm at "India House Backpackers" is full of charm, lots of art on the walls, courtesy of previous guests, and a very homely feel about it. And of course, more characters to add to my collection (like Mike, the ex Special Ops ranger who was part of the rescue mission for those guys that got shot down in the black hawk in Somalia)...good times, good times.

This morning I jumped on a cable car (I love that they're just a normal form of public transport here) and headed to Cafe Du Monde - the oldest cafe in America...apparently. They're famous for their New Orleans coffee, which is brewed with chickory (charred hickory), but I wasn't much of fan. Their other specialty are these pastries, kind of like a donut with no hole, that are absolutely coated in powdered sugar. Very rich, very delicious.

I then spent a couple of hours wandering aimlessly through the French Quarter, which is very charming. A sudden huge crash of thunder gave about a minute's notice of a gigantic downpour, so I took refuge in another delightful cafe, and watched the world (and the people) go by - quite possibly my favourite holiday activity.

The rain abated for a while, so I continued my wandering, but when another thunder boom sounded, I thought I'd head for the hills and rest up for what is sure to be a big night tonight. I jumped in another cable car, and the conductor apologised for a car accident on the tracks just in front of us. He said there'd be a short wait for a tow truck and then we'd get going. But then, about 4 police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck came wailing up behind us. The conductor got the news on the radio that there was a person threatening to jump off the roof of the building directly in front of us. We could see him up there. The tow truck arrived and removed the crashed car, and we moved on. I hope he didn't jump - it was a derelict building, I hate to think that it was the last thing someone saw, climbing all those stairs in a junked out building.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Her life, in a nutshell

This trip is absolutely crazy, I can't believe how quickly the time is going. I'm currently in transit at Dallas airport, and have about 20 minutes until boarding, so I'll do my best to encapsulate New York in that time. I have to get my camera out of my bag to look back and remember what we actually did and saw, because we sure crammed a lot in!! I think a list will be easiest:

Day 1 (with Katie)

- Breakfast at "Balthazar"
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (incredible!)
- Strolling through Central Park (very beautiful in Autumn!)
- Jazz set and martinis at "Next Door" bar

Day 2

- Walked across Brooklyn Bridge
- Cupcakes from Magnolia bakery
- Wandering around Greenwich village, Chinatown - much shopping
- Improv comedy at the "Upright Citizen's Brigade"

Day 3

- The bull statue
- More shopping
- Heaps of stuff I can't remember
- Waiting in line for Phantom tickets
- PHANTOM ON BROADWAY!!!

Day 4

- A visit to the American Girl store (it's a scary scary place)
- Veteran's Day parade on 5th Ave
- Tiffany's to see the Tiffany diamond
- Lots of window shopping on 5th Ave
- Mucking around in FAO Shwartz (there were too many kids playing on the giant floor piano - from "Big" - so I couldn't have a go)
- Apple concept store
- More fun and games in Central Park
- Drinks at Buddha Bar in the meatpacking district

Day 5

- Shopping at Forever 21
- A visit to the Flat Iron
- Backroom bag buying in Chinatown
- Saying goodbye to Katie
- Lunch with my friend Julian, who's doing some interesting work with the UNFPA
- Looking in the atrium lobby of the Ford Foundation
- A quick glimpse of the UN buildings, unfortunately closed to the public due to Bushy and other world leaders being in town.
- Wandering around The Strand bookstore - 18 miles of books!

I know I've forgotten a lot, and haven't described how all those different things made me feel, but it was an absolutely fantastic week. I was so glad Katie was able to come over and share it with me (and also for her amazing sense of direction!), it's definitely an awesome place.

10 points for the band responsible for the song title...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Freezing fingers

So I can't type much. I've just spent over an hour in line for discount Broadway tickets, Katie and I are going to see Phantom of the Opera tonight!!

NYC is pretty awesome, I've seen and done a lot, will have to write more at a later date!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

In ole New York

I set off this morning with no firm plan of what I was going to do, and made my way to Times Square. I'd like to say that I was blown away by the craziness of it all, but I guess at 9:30am on a Thursday, there's not a lot going on. But I did get very excited about all the possible Broadway shows I could see (Wicked is at the top of the list).

From there I jumped back on the subway and headed down to get the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. As soon as I got out of the station, it started pouring...thankfully I'd put my gore-tex jacket in my bag, so the top half of me remained dry. The Statue of Liberty was pretty cool, even though I had to go through ANOTHER security check (I had to get rid of my water bottle and go through an air spray machine - it's hardly an airport!!) and since it was such a crap day, the view to Manhattan wasn't brilliant.

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum was really interesting, and heartbreaking at the same time. Just imagine spending 2 weeks on an overcrowded boat from Europe to be turned back for one reason or another.

More heartache followed when I headed to the World Trade Center memorial centre after that. Thank goodness they provided tissues! Some of the things that had been salvaged from the destruction, including a child's teddy bear, and a fireman's ripped jacket and mangled helmet were extremely moving. It's hard to believe that it happened seven years ago.

I walked from there to Wall Street, which is hardly the bustling hub of finance I had expected it to be. Where were all the spunky investment bankers?? (I guess in their offices, doing spunky investment banker things) I walked down to the end of the street and had a squiz at the Brooklyn Bridge, but it looked like rain again, so I wasn't going to chance walking across today.

Tomorrow? Who knows! My friend Katie is arriving from London tomorrow night - after I've moved out of the rather nice hostel and into an old uni friend's apartment. That'll save me a pretty penny on accommodation! I just checked out how much money I'd spent already and got a bit of a shock...but c'est la vie, I'll be somewhere much cheaper soon enough.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Start spreading the news...

I'm leaving today
I'm gonng be a part of it...

An historic night

I was glad when I went up to my room yesterday to find Alex, a nice Brit, who was getting ready to go and meet her friends at a bar to watch the election. She didn't have to work hard to convince me, so we set off, thinking the bar was a bit of a hike from our place. Of course, when we got to Pennsylvania Ave, between 3rd and 4th like we'd been told by her friends, there was nothing there. Turns out Pennsylvania continues past Capitol Hill and the numbers start over. It was a good hour we walked for, but that got us up and awake and ready for fun.

And it was a lot of fun! Everytime a state was called for Obama (by my dear friend Anderson on CNN) the crowd absolutely errupted. And errupted in boos for McCain, but there weren't too many wins on his end.

The moment the Californian electoral college votes were added to Obama's total and he was declared President-elect, the place exploded. I've never witnessed anything like it. I saw a huge black man break down into sobs. Amazing stuff. We hung around for the speeches and then headed out to find a cab. We started walking, figuring one would have to show up eventually, and not concerned about anything else as there were so many people out on the streets. Cars were honking their horns, people were screaming, blowing whistles...it went on for hours!

I was really glad that I'd unknowingly ended up booking my time in D.C. for election night...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RAOK

or, random act of kindness. I got talking to a guy from Puerto Rico the other day, who's led a pretty rough life. Grew up in NYC and was in the gang the Bloods for quite a long time and saw a lot of terrible things. To get out of the gang he joined the army and spent 3 years in Afghanistan, 2000-03. He's now a self taught spray paint artist.

Anyway, when he told me he was going to do a painting for me, I didn't think much of it. He caught up with me this morning as I was about to head out, and presented me with a gorgeous painting. It's not small, and is a forest scene at sunset. I was absolutely stunned and blown away. He said he'd appreciated me actually sitting and talking with him, as he tends to scare most people away. I was so touched. It had only taken him about 6 minutes to do, and he tip-toed me through each step of the process. I had him sign the back for me.

So my first stop of the day was the post office, where I spent over half an hour trying to wrap the painting in a cut up box to post home. I went through an entire roll of sticky tape, to make sure it was safe and sound, that it won't break open or leak. Hopefully it makes it home in one piece.

I then continued on my journey to the Arlington Cemetery...it's incredible. Row after row of plain white marble headstones. I can't remember how many people are buried there - anyone in the armed services, their spouses and dependents under 21 can be buried there. First stop was JFK's grave, where there is an eternal flame. He's buried next to Jackie, and two of their children. A boy who lived for 2 days, and a still born girl - her gravestone simply reads "Daughter" and the year.

Then it was on to the tomb of the unknown soldier, just in time for the changing of the guard, which lasted about 7 minutes and was interesting to see. They have 3 memorials set up nearby - two for the astronauts that died in the Challenger and Colombia disasters. The third was for those who were killed trying to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980.

The last stop was Arlington House, which has a long history with slavery. It had a spectacular view over Washington DC, but the rain had really settled in (which added to the atmosphere of the cemetery) and I couldn't see a lot.

Now I'm back, a bit wet, a bit tired. I had really wanted to find somewhere happening for the election results, but I'm not sure if I can be bothered to brave the weather on my own!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Birthday

to my Mum!

Lions and Tigers and Bears (and dinosaurs and diamonds and...) oh my!

I started my day at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - I could have spent a lifetime there. There were some very cool things, I can't even remember most of them. Perhaps the most memorable was the Hope Diamond. Stunning. Potential suitors - this will do me just fine!

I then headed for the National Archives, saw the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They also had many other cool bits and pieces there - old reports from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the patents for the telephone and the first submarine, and all the records of Vietnam war POWs, including one Mr McCain.

Um, then it was the Air and Space Museum - which Dad would love. They've got the Hubble telescope in there, too many planes to count (including some unmanned spy planes which looked outer space-ish) and heaps of display items from the Apollo missions. I had to laugh when I got to the special pens that NASA designed to write in space - it didn't say this on the display but I remember hearing, that while NASA spent years, and a ton of money, developing these pens, the Russians just took pencils. Oh, those Ruskis, clever till the end.

I then hiked up Capitol Hill to the Library of Congress, and felt like I was back in Europe. It's an amazing building, paintings on the roof and marble everywhere. I was almost tempted to get myself a library card just to see what they had in the shelves (apparently the world's largest collection of comic books AND erotica!!) but was starting to fade.

On the way, I stopped to play with Brutus, the baby British Bulldog (say that 3 times quickly!) who was 14 weeks old and absolutely adorable...and so was his owner!

Time to take it easy for a while, maybe enjoy a bit more of Mr Cooper - I thought I'd try to recommend some more books to Anonymous, who wanted more of Anderson but unfortunately, he hasn't written anything else. I consulted the amazon section "customers who bought... also bought", to see if that showed up anything worthwhile.

There were those that were relevant:
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (I haven't read this yet, but really want to)
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (as above)
  • A Mighty Heart by Sarah Crichton (I have the Angelina Jolie movie version of this but haven't had a chance to see it)
And those that weren't:
  • Marley & Me by John, Grogan (a wonderful book though nowhere near the same sort of thing, I bawled my eyes out at the end - and coming soon to a movie theatre near you with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston if I'm not mistaken)
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls (she's now a gossip columnist but grew up very very poor - good book, but nothing like Anderson)
  • Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (a great book about an absolutely unbelievable childhood, made into a film with Ralph Fiennes and Annette Benning)
  • Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler (I heard about this book on one of my favourite blogs and think it sounds hilarious...but related to Anderson...not so much!)
So Anonymous, there are lots of good books on that list, but whether they're what your looking for, well, who knows?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another book

Ok, I'm just devouring the books. But I actually lashed out and bought a book at the airport yesterday. Anderson Cooper's "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival" - he's the silver fox of a CNN anchor and former foreign correspondent (his mother is Gloria Vanderbilt). I haven't finished it yet (the subject refers to yet another Janet Evanovich book I found on the hostel shelf), I'm taking my time with it so I can actually stretch out the enjoyment.

Cooper's good. He intersperses experiences from Iraq and Niger, for example, with times he spent early in his career in Somalia and Vietnam. He did something crazy that I once flirted with the idea of - just rocked up in a challenging country and made it work for him.

I'll let you know how it goes (the book that is, not the showing up in a random country!)

Culture Vulture

Picture a beautiful elongated domed roof, in a rectangular room with columns flanking either side, green trees in wood chips and a sculpture of angels and a goose in the middle. Got it? Well that's where I spent my evening, at a free concert (the 2,691st concert to be exact) by the National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble and the National Gallery Chamber Players. The seating was squared around the outside of the statue, and then in rather odd places - I was stuck behind the statue, but could see a few of the singers and the viola player.

The first half of the program was religious pieces, but it really heated up after the intermission with the Dutch pieces (to tie in with a current exhibition). I particularly one piece, "Lascia Filli mia cara" or "Come, My Dear Phyllis".

Come, my dear Phyllis
cast off your rigours
and, wise as you are,
dress yourself in love;
Be wary that you do not imitate the snakes.
Learn to love from the doves,
learn the way of lovers,
with repeated hugs and many caresses,
that one day I will hold you in my arms
and wish to make a thousand doves
feel ashamed.

However, the biggest applause was reserved for an Italian piece entitled "Matona, mia cara" which ended with the following verse:

If you'll love me
I won't be lazy
I will make love all night long
and will thrust like a ram.

I spent the day wandering around the various monuments. I walked up to the Washington Monument (the big obelisk) and got a free ticket for a few hours later. I then headed down through the WWII memorial, which is a nice fountain, past the reflecting pool (refraining from yelling "run Forest run" at passing joggers, and down to Abraham Lincoln's statue. It's quite impressive. I wandered up through the Vietnam memorial - 58,000 names etched in alphabetical order on the day they were killed.

From there I walked past the White House - couldn't see much but I imagine the movers are in there, packing up old Georgie boy's stuff. From there I strolled back up to the Washington Monument and waited in line to go up the lift. The viewing platform is 500 feet up, and the view (though compartmentalised in little windows) was great.

Another big day tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can OD on Smithsonians!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One more thing

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month!

Even though the date stamp for this says 2 November, it's still very much the 1st in D.C!

Cleetus was more fun

Unfortunately, the Halloween party at the hostel last night was a bit of a fizzer. I still had a great time hanging out with my crazy friends, enjoying the free beer and flowing conversation, but the turnout was pretty crap. My cute little bumblebee went down a treat amongst the skanky nun (Alicia, one of the staff who is heavily tattooed, included red barbed wire eyebrows and dark lines trailing from underneath her lips to her chest...), the numerous cross dressing men, the hobo, the pirates, the Britney Spears schoolgirls, and most pathetically, the green ghost from Ghostbusters - the dude had been creative enough to drape a green sheet over himself...

However, knowing that I had to be up ridiculously early to put a few more items in my bag, check out, walk the 5 blocks to catch the shuttle and get to the airport, I didn't go overboard. And I really hate it whenever I have to set my alarm for some ungodly hour, that I really don't sleep well because I always think it's just about to get up. So even after going to bed at 11:30pm, I swear I got perhaps an hour of sleep. 4:20am of course, came around, and off I went.

From Seattle, I flew to Dallas Fort Worth, happily noting that Qantas hasn't caught up with the fact that my gold frequent flyer status expired yesterday. Of course, my boarding pass had the dreaded SSSS code on the bottom, meaning I'd been selected for extra security testing. I'm going to have to have a word to them to find out why my name keeps coming up if it happens again! I didn't have all that long to kill in Dallas, and was thoroughly unimpressed with the airline lounge, but then jumped on another plane. To Washington D.C. Just think of a map of the US for a second....yeah, it makes no sense that that route was my connection.

Anyway, I'm here, I've got 4 days and a lot to do! Museums, monuments, and the zoo (all free - thanks American tax payers) But what I'm most excited about is seeing the election results announced in real time on Tuesday night...awesome. OBAMARAMA!!